Although I managed to accomplish my intended reading over my ‘holiday’ from Crimepieces, as usual I also got side tracked. Faber have, over the summer, rereleased the short stories and novels of Robert Aickman. He’s not a writer I’m particularly familiar with. I initially dipped into the stories because I fancied trying something that wasn’t specifically crime fiction and I was seduced by the wonderful covers that have been produced for these editions.
Aickman’s stories almost defy definition. They are tales of supernatural events and unexplained happenings usually set in a world that on the surface appears to be reassuringly normal. The first book I read, Dark Entries, had six stories including the one I was most familiar with ‘Ringing the Changes’. In the introduction to the book, Richard T Kelly argues that women in Aickman’s stories generally get off better than the men for whom he reserves particularly grisly fates. While this is true, women often seem to be the catalyst many of the strange occurrences while those around them either struggle to understand what’s happening or are wilfully blind to the events.
In the Wine Dark Sea, the eight stories follow a similar vein and includes the chilling ‘Your Tiny Hand is Frozen.’ These later stories of Aickman are more substantial and, in my opinion, more confident in the skewed world the writer portrays. There’s a timelessness to the stories so that, even when they’re set on a fiction Greek island, the readers struggle to distinguish between the familiar and the surreal.
Aickman apparently referred to his fiction as ‘strange stories’ which just about sums up these books. There’s rarely a resolution to the tales leaving the protagonists, and the readers, in a unsettling limbo. This is completely satisfying.