Sunday, 24 July 2016

Cold Hand In Mine

Robert Aickman
Faber & Faber

Cold Hand in Mine was first published in the UK in 1975 and in the US in 1977. The story 'Pages from a Young Girl's Journal' won the Aickman World Fantasy Award in 1975. It was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1973 before appearing in this collection.
Cold Hand in Mine stands as one of Aickman's best collections and contains eight stories that show off his powers as a 'strange story' writer to the full, being more ambiguous than standard ghost stories. Throughout the stories the reader is introduced to a variety of characters, from a man who spends the night in a Hospice to a German aristocrat and a woman who sees an image of her own soul. There is also a nod to the conventional vampire story ('Pages from a Young Girl's Journal') but all the stories remain unconventional and inconclusive, which perhaps makes them all the more startling and intriguing.


I very much enjoyed the first volume of these Faber reprints of Aickman's collections of short stories.  The stories are decidedly odd and often end with only the vaguest of resolutions which is kind of fun.  This second collection, featuring stories originally published in 1975, is very much more of the same but with the strangeness knob turned way up.

The book opens with 'The Swords' a dark and disturbing story of a young salesman's sexual awakening in the company of an odd young woman from a carnival sideshow.  It's eroticised body horror at it's most disquieting mixing potential metaphor - the men at the sideshow piercing the woman's body with their swords - with the virgin narrators own confused, tumbling, feelings of arousal, confusion and (self)loathing at the situation he finds himself in.


'The Real Road to the Church', 'Niemandswasser', 'Pages From a Young Girl's Journal' and 'The Hospice'  all tell of people out of place.  In the first a young lady relocates herself to a small cottage and has to negotiate the ways of the locals and perhaps losing - or at least putting aside - an aspect of herself.  In the second a self absorbed prince removes himself from the world imposing himself in a part of his world where he previously hadn't belonged and through his arrogance finds himself both literally and metaphorically in the no man's water of the title.  The third is perhaps the story here I found the least satisfying as it tells of a young girl's visit to Europe in the company of her parents and the slow descent into the thrall of a vampire.  Unfortunately she's such a whiney little Anne Rice type that by the end I just didn't care.  The fourth was a much more interesting prospect as another fairly repressed man finds himself stranded for the night at a very unusual hospice where the guests are fed huge quantities of food whilst chained to the table and change their appearance during the night.  It's very much proto-David Lynch and utterly wonderful.

More fun is had with the relatively straight forward weird fiction delights of 'The Same Dog' whose appearance precipitates the death of a young girl  and whose reappearance comes allied with a profound shock.

'Meeting Mr. Millar' is an unusual - and perhaps slightly overlong - ghost story where another of Aickman's characteristically conservative leads is disturbed from his comfortable routine by the comings and goings of the new neighbours downstairs.

The book ends with 'The Clock Watcher', the story of a young wife's obsession with the elaborate clocks of her homeland and of her husband's increasing unease with her and them.  It's a story brimming with potential but unfortunately, for me at least, it never truly found its stride and just didn't achieve any notable level of intrigue or enigma.

I have to admit here that I struggled to find my rhythm with this book but I suspect that was mostly due to the distraction of work pressures.  There are some fun stories here and a few very enjoyable moments but it just didn't hit as immediately as the first volume.  It is however still a very pleasurable trip into a unique imagination.

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