“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…”
Call it an irony if you wish, but without doubt one of the happiest endeavours of Faber Finds to date has been the returning to print of a writer whose work is pregnant with unease, melancholia and dread. I speak of the Finds editions of several story collections by Robert Aickman, an author somewhat unsung by the mainstream but, among connoisseurs, a deeply and rightly revered master of the supernatural tale. The Aickman titles available in Finds are The Unsettled Dust, The Wine-Dark Sea, and Cold Hand in Mine.
Neil Gaiman is just one among many authoritative admirers of Aickman, and Gaiman was kind enough to note the Finds editions on publication in 2008 (scroll down).
‘League of Gentlemen’ alumni Jeremy Dyson and Mark Gatiss have also collaborated on adaptations of Aickman for radio and television. I asked Kim Newman, novelist, critic and authority on the supernatural genre in all forms, for his view on Aickman’s standing in the present day, and he gave me this verdict:
“Robert Aickman was the best, the subtlest and the creepiest author of ghost stories of his time; and, as an anthologist, did a great deal to shape a lasting canon of supernatural fiction. But, more than being important, he’s good … still enormously re-readable, offering mysteries which get deeper and scarier with each return.”
(The anthologies to which Kim refers are volumes 1 to 8 of the old Fontana series of Great Ghost Stories, the merits of which are keenly hymned on the web, by Aickman devotees but also those who are acquainted with his work only through these selections.)
The web also offers some lovingly detailed tribute sites to Aickman for those seeking further insight and information. Certainly I can recommend Robert Aickman – An Appreciation, and therein, just for example, a fine essay by Jim Rockhill on ‘The Inner Room’, which is one of Kim Newman’s favourite Aickman stories and can be found in the Finds edition of The Wine Dark Sea.
There is also a wealth of data available at Robert Aickman: A Database.
In noting this avidity for Aickman’s work Finds must also make an apology to those same readers. Though one very much hopes that Aickman fans have been broadly pleased by Faber Finds’ efforts in restoring these collections to print, one must also acknowledge that there were an unacceptable number of errors in our initial reissues as a result of glitches in the scanning-offsetting process. We can only pledge that it won’t happen again, and hope that readers’ overall enjoyment of the works was not spoiled by these same mishaps.
As for those yet to make Aickman’s acquaintance on the page, it should be said that he has power at any time of year, but the dark, dwindling months of November and December might be the aptest time to discover him. As Tim Martin wrote in a piece for the Telegraph on ‘the best ghost stories for Christmas’, published at the time of the Finds Aickman reissues,
“The cumulative effect of [Aickman’s] stories is remarkable, and their hostile suggestiveness stays with the reader long after the book is closed. I can make no stronger recommendation for Christmas unease…”
And nor, for that matter, can I. Christmas is a time for comfort and cheer, of course, but a little disturbance is good for the soul if taken in moderation – and Aickman offers a potent, elegant, undiluted dose.