Robert Aickman, the supreme master of the supernatural, brings together eight stories in which strange things happen that the reader is unable to predict. His characters are often lonely and middle-aged, but all have the same thing in common: they are brought to the brink of an abyss that shows how terrifyingly fragile our piece of mind actually is.The Unsettled Dust, The House of the Russians, No Stronger Than a Flower, The Cicerones and Ravissante first appeared in the Sub Rosa collection in 1968, but the stories were published together as The Unsettled Dust in 1990. Aickman received the British Fantasy Award in 1981 for The Stains, which first appeared in the anthology New Terrors (1980), as well as the posthumous collection of Aickman's short stories, Night Voices (1985).
Robert Fordyce Aickman was born in 1914 in London. In 1951, he published his first ghost stories in a volume called We Are the Dark, written in conjunction with Elizabeth Jane Howard, then went on to publish eleven further volumes of horror stories, two fantasy novels and two volumes of autobiography. Dubbed ‘the supreme master of the supernatural’, he won a World Fantasy Award and British Fantasy Award for his short fiction, and also edited the first eight volumes of The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories. Aside from his writing, Aickman was passionate about preserving British canals and founded the Inland Waterways Association in 1946. He died in February 1981.
Reece Shearsmith is a talented actor and writer. He is most famous for co-writing and starring in the award-winning The League of Gentlemen, along with Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss, and Jeremy Dyson. In 2009, Shearsmith and Pemberton won Best New Comedy at the 2009 British Comedy Awards for Psychoville. Reece Shearsmith has just finished filming Ben Wheatley's horror A Field in England, out in July 2013.
©1990 Robert Aickman (P)2013 Audible Ltd
"I think that Aickman is one of those authors that you respond to on a very primal level. Reading Robert Aickman is like watching a magician work, and very often I'm not even sure what the trick was. All I know is that he did it beautifully. Yes, the key vanished, but I don't know if he was holding a key in the hand to begin with. I find myself admiring everything he does from an auctorial standpoint. And I love it as a reader. He will bring on atmosphere. He will construct these perfect, dark, doomed little stories, what he called 'strange stories’" (Neil Gaiman)
"We are all potential victims of the powers Aickman so skilfully conjures and commands" (Robert Bloch)
"This century's most profound writer of what we call horror stories" (Peter Straub)
"Superb tales of suspenseful unease... a contemporary master of the genre" (Publishers Weekly)
"Of all the authors of uncanny tales, Aickman is the best ever… His tales literally haunt me; his plots and his turns of phrase run through my head at the most unlikely moments" (Russell Kirk)
I read a book once.
I enjoyed the author's writing for the most part although it did kind of drag at times. The narrator was good although at times it was hard to distinguish between characters. My favorite stories were the Unsettled Dust, The Houses of the Russians, and The Stains.
"Strange Stories Indeed"
Aickman called his tales "strange stories" and that is a far more helpful description than any other. Some people hear him described as a "master of horror" or "terror" and expecting something in the style of Robert Bloch or James Herbert are then disappointed by stories which are rather literary, subtly disquieting and generally lacking in overt gore.
There has been a resurgence of interest in Aickman's work in the UK in recent years and part of the reason for this has been the championing of it by the 'League of Gentlemen' team, so it is no surprise to find one of them, Reece Shearsmith, reading this collection.
Shearsmith recounted in a recent interview that the sound recordist said to him, "you're really acting them, aren't you?" about these sessions and he does try hard to give each story a distinct character and to differentiate characters within the stories. Aickman isn't the easiest writer to read aloud: some of his sentences do meander on and there are occasions when the reader sounds as if he's expecting a sentence to end then hurriedly has to adjust his inflection to fit in another clause or two, but overall Shearsmith's obvious enthusiasm and sympathy for the work more than compensates for the very occasional misplaced emphasis and his natural educated Yorkshire accent fits most of the stories very well.
My favourite of Aickman's stories are his most distinctive: while he can do a traditional ghost story, as in the title story and some of his works are clearly allegorical such as, 'No Stronger Than a Flower' his best stories are impossible to categorise cleanly.
In 'Ravissante' the narrator meets a young couple, a man who has abandoned painting to edit art books and his mysterious, taciturn wife. After the man's death the narrator is appointed his executor and discovers a manuscript detailing how the deceased had travelled to study the works of his artistic heroes and had a highly disturbing encounter with the widow of one of them. Is she, or the adopted daughter she describes but we never see, some kind of malevolent spirit destroying artists across generations? And is the widow of the artist turned publisher the same being?
Similarly in the final, and longest, story in this collection, 'The Stains' a senior civil servant recovering after the death of his wife goes to stay with his brother, a clergyman and amateur expert on lichens in northern England. Walking on the moors he embarks on a passionate affair with a mysterious young woman who may be a nymph - or, as we are given reasons to suspect, a figment of the alcoholic civil servant's imagination? And just what do the lichens represent symbolically?
Aickman's best stories are beautiful, rich and puzzling: they don't have solutions; they pose questions and as a result they are ideally suited to multiple readings or listenings
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