It’s been many years since I discovered The Unstrung Harp, a delightful little story about writing and publishing presented from the dark and slightly eccentric viewpoint of Edward Gorey. In it, the main character, the author Mr. Earbrass, is working on his latest novel. (Mr. Earbrass is author of the Hipdeep trilogy; he begins a new novel every other year on November 18th, regardless of whether he has a plot.)

Progress is slow and humorous as he struggles for ideas, envisions meeting his characters, considers burning the horrible manuscript, and generally agonizes over the creative process. Sadly, things are no better for him once the novel is published; he now searches for his book in shop windows, faces a stack of reviews, fends off questions from annoyed readers and wonders how on earth to allocate the six complimentary copies he’s been given. His journey is beautifully illustrated in the distinct Gorey style, with rich (and often quirky) details on every page.

I’ve read several of Gorey’s books, but this one is my favorite above all the rest. Possibly it appeals to me because I’m a creative writer and I can identify with the agony Mr. Earbrass experiences while trying to write a new work. But I also like it because, while short, it’s a traditional story with a beginning, middle and end, and the subject matter is very accessible to modern-day readers. It’s also not macabre, as many of Gorey’s works are; nobody dies in this book, aside from one or two of Mr. Earbrass’s fictional characters.

If you like Edward Gorey’s art but have never read one of his books, I highly recommend The Unstrung Harp. It’s an excellent starting point to explore Gorey’s work. It also makes a great gift for the writers in your life.

Mr. Earbrass is plagued by doubt as he stands outside his publisher's office with the finished manuscript:

"Suddenly the whole thing strikes him as very silly, and he thinks he will go and drop his parcel off the Embankment and thus save everyone concerned a good deal of fuss."
- The Unstrung Harp, by Edward Gorey

Some of you may be familiar with Edward Gorey’s drawings from the introduction to Mystery! on PBS. An animation with his art was used for years to introduce this popular program. This was my first exposure to Gorey’s art.

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