Book Review – The Unstrung Harp by Edward Gorey

The Unstrung Harp

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Dark Comedy / Fiction
Publication Date: 1953 / 2000
Publisher: Bloomsbury

“Even more harrowing than the first chapters of a novel are the last, for Mr. Earbrass anyway. The characters have one and all become thoroughly tiresome, as though he had been trapped at the same party with them since the day before; neglected sections of the plot loom on every hand, waiting to be disposed of; his verbs seem to have withered away and his adjectives to be proliferating past control.”

As writers, our beloved craft is often the catalyst of our madness. Our novels drive us crazy. If only it were as simple as writing it down, but even that defies us sometimes. Our stories lurk around in our heads begging and nagging constantly to be written, but when we have the time and materials to do so, they latch their claws to the dark corners of our minds and refuse to come outside, no matter what we try to tempt them out with.

I’ve always gotten the feeling that people who don’t write have no way of understanding this difficulty, even if they read, and especially if they work in publishing. Publishers, ironically enough, seem to have a history of undervaluing and not understanding the very people who keep them in business. It’s cathartic to see the troubles of writing reflected in such a funny, charming book, with Gorey’s signature lovingly detailed, Victorian artwork. Though it can be a little bit depressing how close the trials of Mr. Earbrass and his weird novel that refuses to come out right are to reality.

The Unstrung Harp is a self-aware, very true-to-life portrait of the demon that is writer’s block, among other curses bestowed upon someone just because they were born with the urge to tell stories – pitiful publishers, peer envy, bad criticism, fake criticism, cruel deadlines, the whole gamut. One has to wonder if that’s what Gorey himself had gone through with his early books, and makes me thankful that the indie press has blossomed into what it is.

(Even if it comes with the downside of people trying to pass off shoddily copy-and-pasted Wikipedia articles as actual books.)

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

Book Review – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: March 7th, 2005
Publisher: Vintage Books

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of the mind.” -Dhammapada

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of those rare cases in which the movie is far, far better than the book. Originally titled These Foolish Things when it was first published, then renamed to coincide with the film adaptation, in the end, I found myself unable to remember much about it, at least that was positive. Promised to me was a fluffy, heart-warming read, not whatever it was I got, this chunky mix of decent bits and excruciating, offensive bits.
There is a pretty notable amount of differences between the two, even the essential plot changes – from two cousins beginning a retirement scheme for English expats in India in the novel to a son trying to rebuild his father’s hotel in the film.

It makes sense to me now why they would rename the book to match the film. The film stands out so well because, besides the amazing sets and soundtrack, it’s written much more sensitively, so that you’ll care about the characters despite their sometimes aggravating quirks. Most of the cast, save for Jean Ainslie, grow as people and shed any hesitations they might’ve had about living in India. The novel begins engagingly, then throws out its character growth as soon as it shows signs of blossom. At first I’d given it three stars, but the more I thought about this, the less I can say I enjoyed it. Continue reading “Book Review – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach”

Book Review – The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by Tim Burton

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Dark Poetry
Publication Date: October 28th, 2008
Publisher: It Books

“The boy with nails in his eyes put up his aluminum tree. It looked pretty strange because he couldn’t really see.”

And there you have the general atmosphere of the entire book in one sentence.

À la Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies, a picture book in which a series of unfortunate children meet horrific, and more importantly alliterative, fates, Tim Burton’s Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy is a collection of poems about mutated children who horrify their peers and disappoint their parents to the point of cannibalizing them just so they won’t have to deal with them anymore.
Unfortunately, it does come across as a quirkier but weaker Gashlycrumb Tinies.

If you create any kind of bleak, monochromatic art, you’re going to have to deal with the phrase “Hey, you remind me of Tim Burton” a lot. I promise you this. Nevertheless I honesty do really like Tim Burton’s style and animated films. Corpse Bride was one of my favourites as a child and still is today. Not going to say Burton hasn’t been a big influence on me. He has. But with this, I expected something a little more macabre from his poems, to tell you the truth..

Oyster Boy and his dilapidated pals are cute. I love Mummy Boy, who plays “virgin sacrifice” at recess and has a head full of scarabs. There’s a lot in here that feels aimless and random though. Not quite horror, not quite humor, not quite surrealism kind of aimless. Still, it’s got clever limbs here and there. And up there. And over there. And nestled in the corner giving me that look I can’t stand.

Image result for melancholy death of oyster boy mummy

A Shake to Your Death

This is actually a little monstrosity that I made on Poem Generator. It came out so silly I couldn’t help but post it. It’s like an unintentional parody of gothic poetry and is very much almost good. So close.

The Tragic and Unlucky Death

Whose death is that? I think I know.
Its owner is quite angry though.
He was cross like a dark potato.
I watch him pace. I cry hello.

He gives his death a shake,
And screams I’ve made a bad mistake.
The only other sound’s the break
Of distant waves and birds awake

(I particularly love “he gives his death a shake”. Shaking death like it owes you money. Also, “cross like a dark potato”? Are they darker because they’re angrier? Or are they angry because they’re probably moldy, causing the discoloration? Should it be “cross like a moldy potato”?)

Follow my (serious) poetry on Tumblr.

Book Review – Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Short Stories / Fiction
Publication Date: May 26th, 2015
Publisher: Doubleday

There was actual cannibalism afoot in this book and I didn’t even notice because I was too busy trying to unprocess the medley of other sour details this book was feeding me. I guess it follows through with its promise, because now I have to slice the memory off of my brain.

Don’t get me wrong, Make Something Up is not by any means a bad collection, but it’s kind of crude after reading Haunted. I adored Haunted despite the fact that it was meticulously vile, because that works for depressive horror novels. Not so much for humor novels. This kind of tasted like a really elaborate yet flat dirty joke in places, but there are several stories that are great. I liked the African folktale parodies especially, which were hilarious. “Loser” and “Red Sultan’s Big Boy” are also prime dark comedy. “Cannibal” is the one I’m going to have to unread somehow.

If you like your humor in snot and blood colours, you might like it a lot, but I would recommend reading some of Palahniuk’s earlier work first – Haunted, Fight Club, Invisible Monsters, etc.