Tuesday, 19 December 2017

The Wine-Dark Sea

Robert Aickman
Faber and Faber

Peter Straub called Robert Aickman 'this century's most profound writer of what we call horror stories'. Aickman's 'strange stories' (his preferred term for them) are a subtle exploration of psychological displacement and paranoia. His characters are ordinary people that are gradually drawn into the darker recesses of their own minds.
First published in the USA in 1988 and in the UK in 1990 The Wine-Dark Sea contains eight stories that will leave the reader unsettled as the protagonists' fears and desires, at once illogical and terrifying, culminate in a disturbing yet enigmatic ending.

Over the last few years I've read a fair few of Aickman's strange tales both in the wild as part of various anthologies and caged inside the first two volumes of this quartet of reissues, 'Dark Entries' and 'Cold Hand in Mine'.  They've been an enjoyable if often slightly frustrating read.  he was a craftsman par excellence, his skill in building a story into an oppressive and bizarre atmosphere is astounding  but I've often been left unsatisfied by the conclusions he fashions for them.  I don't mean this in the same way as say Stephen King who simply cannot write a satisfying ending but more as an observation that the almost perfunctory endings he gives the stories cast both us and his characters out into the cold having been utterly changed by the experience we've just shared.

This third collection contains what felt - I've not checked so I may be factually wrong but it certainly felt - like a set of longer and more deliberate stories.  They were, not to put too fine a point on it, excellent.

From the opening paean to a simpler, spiritual experience in the title piece, via the old fashioned, and a little obvious, horror of 'The Trains' , the growing madness of the slavery of the telephone in 'Your Tiny Hand is Frozen' and the silliness of 'Growing Boys'.  Through the isolation of 'The Fetch' and the neglect suffered in 'The Inner Room' and the acceptance and rejection of 'Never Visit Venice' to the insomniacs rambles 'Into the Wood' this proved to be a most satisfying and immersive read and easily the most enjoyable so far of the quartet.

Buy it here - The Wine-Dark Sea


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