Monday, 27 June 2016

Dark Entries

Robert Aickman
Faber & Faber

Aickman's 'strange stories' (his preferred term) are constructed immaculately, the neuroses of his characters painted in subtle shades. He builds dread by the steady accrual of realistic detail, until the reader realises that the protagonist is heading towards their doom as if in a dream.
Dark Entries was first published in 1964 and contains six curious and macabre stories of love, death and the supernatural, including the classic story 'Ringing the Changes'.


So, after reading a few short stories and him as the editor of a Fontana anthology I finally get to experience Aickman on his own terms.  'Dark Entries' is one of four newly reprinted collections by Faber & Faber and is the earliest of the works and so the perfect place to start.

The first Aickman story I read is featured here but first we have a biographical foreword before the book properly begins with 'The School Friend'.  The story tells of the unlikely friendship between two women who find themselves thrown back together after many years only for one of them to find that people are stranger by far than the face they present to the world.

The second story is, in the words of the jacket blurb, 'the classic story 'Ringing in the Changes' which is the only story presented here that I'm already familiar with.  It's a brutal and harrowing story that pits a newly married couple against the risen dead in a small coastal town.

Truthfully I have no idea what to make of 'Choice of Weapons'.  For much of it it seems like a straight forward love story until the ending spins everything on it's head and left me a tad confused.

This oddity is followed by probably the most straightforward story in the book in the shape of a haunted railway station in 'The Waiting Room' before the book once more earns its 'strange stories' label with 'The View'.  Here whilst taking refuge on an island a man finds solace in the arms and house of a beautiful woman but in a place where change is constant he finds it hard to do so.

With the exception of a short remembrance of Aickman by Ramsey Campbell the book ends with the folk horror of 'Bind Your Hair' that places a newly engaged career woman amidst her fiances country family and the very odd and unpleasant goings-on up on the hill; a story I felt could have benefited greatly from being given far more space in the telling.

I really didn't know what to expect of these books.  Having read about him and having read two of his stories I was pretty certain I was going to get an old fashioned kind of strangeness and I wasn't disappointed on that score as it was strange to the nth degree.  'Dark Entries' proved to be a most diverting read and I'm very much looking forward to the others.

3 comments: