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Robert Aickman
Dark Entries
Reviewed by: Mario Guslandi © 2011

Tartarus Press
UK Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-905784-32-5
Publication Date: 03-13-2011
197 + IX Pages, ; £32.50/ $50
Date Reviewed: 03-30-2011

Robert Aickman
Sub Rosa

Tartarus Press
UK Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-905784-28-8
Publication Date: 10-31-2010
288 + IX pages Pages ; £32.50/ $50
Date Reviewed: 03-30-2011

Index:  Fantasy  Horror

Robert Aickman (1914-1981) was a renowned British author of unconventional supernatural fiction (but he preferred to use the term "strange stories") who has been remarkably influential on a good number of contemporary writers.

Most of his books are by now out of print and used copies of the original editions are sold in second-hand bookstores at incredibly high prices. In 1999 Tartarus Press reprinted all Aickman's stories in two volumes which sold out very quickly and are now obtainable only by collectors endowed with deep pockets.

Fortunately, Tartarus Press itself is now undertaking the commendable task of reprinting each of Aickman's original collections. 'Sub Rosa' and 'Dark Entries' are the first two volumes published by Tartarus during the last months and a third one ('Powers of Darkness') is forthcoming. Needless to say, dark fiction lovers eagerly seek these volumes.

Aickman is a master of the genre, although an atypical one. For those who are not familiar with this author, nothing can explain the essence of his fictional work better than the words of RB Russell, editor and co-proprietor of Tartarus Press, in his Introduction to the current edition of 'Sub Rosa.' Russell very perceptively observes that Aickman describes a world "in which the inexplicable, the ghostly and the macabre are manifested, but the source and meaning of such intrusions are not at all clear. Very often the explanations of events would seem to be supernatural, but this alone will not account for everything that has happened."

Aickman's tales are elegantly written, classy pieces of fiction, enticing and subtly disquieting, sometimes frustratingly obscure, but never ordinary.

In the older collection 'Dark Entries,' the reader will (re)-discover splendid stories such as the extremely puzzling "The School Friend," the captivating "The View" — a supernatural fable of love and happiness ending up in loneliness and disappointment. "Choice of Weapons" is yet another riddle wrapped in vivid colours, with the texture of a dream. The unforgettable but elusive "Bind Your Hair" is a beautiful phantasmagoria of enigmatic characters involved in pagan, country rites. Not to mention, of course, the eerie and chilling "Ringing the Changes," possibly Aickman's most anthologized (and plagiarized) story.

The companion volume 'Sub Rosa' includes tales such as "Ravissante" featuring the unfathomable character of a Belgian painter's old wife with her odd sensuality, the unsettling "The Inner Room,, about a strange dollhouse which is more than a simple toy and "Into the Wood," in many ways a journey into a different world as well as darker, subtler evidence of Garcia Marquez' concept that insomnia is contagious. The reader will be bewitched by the cryptic symbolism of "Never Visit Venice" and by the dark atmosphere of "The Unsettled Dust," where a young man haunts the mansion inhabited by his former lover and her sister.

In RB Russell's words, "Aickman seems to have given us more than enough clues to the puzzles he offers in his tales and yet they do not quite account for all that happens in them". Quite so. As always, Tartarus books are beautifully produced — one more reason for not missing these two wonderful volumes.

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