Intrusions by Robert Aickman
by Robert Aickman
Tartarus Press, 2012
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
“There was a figure kneeling at my bedstead. The arms were upon the made bedding and the face sunk down upon the supposed hands and the hair long and pale…and what was more and worse, the dress brighter than anything seen by me on this earth, of which earth I have seen so much…”
Intrusions, the last collection of Robert Aickman’s stories published in his lifetime, is also the latest Aickman book reprinted by Tartarus Press, which is offering new, elegant hardcover editions of the author’s “strange” stories.
First appearing in 1980, Intrusions collects six tales, which (with the possible exception of The Next Glade) oddly enough are not usually listed among Aickman’s more celebrated and famous stories. I say “oddly” because the collection is superlative and certainly up to the high standard achieved by the author at his best. Readers familiar with his disturbing and often enigmatic work will find themselves once again mesmerized by the fascinating ambiguity of Aickman’s fiction.
Hand in Glove is a typical Aickmanesque story featuring a jilted young woman taking a picnic in the country with a lady friend. Strange encounters and puzzling objects constitute a nightmarish, disconcerting bundle of events of a dark and unsettling nature:
Winifred picked up the glove and they inspected it together. It was a left-hand glove in black leather or kid, seemingly new or almost so, and really rather elegant… The tiny but expensive-looking body of the glove terminated in a wider gauntlet-like frill or extension of rougher design.
Even for the reader well accustomed with Aickman’s usual ambivalence, No Time Is Passing remains perhaps the most baffling of his stories. The main character is a man recently moved into a new house who suddenly discovers new, hidden aspects to the district, such as the existence of a so far concealed river and a peculiar, disquieting neighbor. Everything has a dream-like, elusive feel, a vivid but weird nature which make the story a disorienting, albeit engrossing puzzle.
The figure was standing by Delbert’s couch. Delbert prepared to take the receptacle. He was not used to drinking from a wide bowl; so first he looked. There was a picture in the water; at the bottom of it; on the surface of the bowl itself: a moving picture in a half-life.
By contrast The Fetch is a story less typically Aickmanesque than the rest of the book. For once we have a straightforward narrative (proving that that writer was perfectly capable of telling a story in a direct way) with a supernatural element which depicts the main character as a man haunted by a female creature whose apparition unfailingly heralds a death in the family.
When she appeared to me before, my poor mother soon passed away. When she appeared to me a second time my dear, dear Shulie vanished from my life.
The Breakthrough is a long story endowed with a certain atmosphere reminiscent of MR James (the village’s rectory is the focus of the story and a dilapidated church where repairs are in progress is the source of the disturbances) but a distinct Aickmanesque flavor. A ghost story – where a mischievous being is released from an ancient vault to plague a whole village) but also a narrative shadowed by many unspoken, well kept secrets only partially disclosed. Yet, the beginning is quite reassuring:
Whatever might have been said thereafter, I firmly testify that there was nothing unusual about the death of the previous rector, Reverend Eliphas Jaunt D.D. I had the most explicit assurance about the point from Dr Chard, than whom no one was ever more dependable.
The Next Glade is a deeply intriguing, spellbinding piece open to different interpretations, revolving around a wood where unaccountable phenomena take place.
She entered the trees at the far side of the glade… There was a house, timbered but not thatched…A man was digging a hole in one of the garden beds…as far as Noelle was concerned, it was unnecessary of him to look up. She knew quite well who he was.
The final gem is Letters to the Postman, a strange story indeed, captivating as a fairy tale, where a young postman falls for a shifty woman whose letters turn out to be deceiving in the extreme. A complex tale portraying the illusion of true love, the sometimes greedy side of the female nature and the oddity of life in general.
That night in his room Robin read Rosetta Fearon’s odd letter again and again and even deposited under his pillow. In the morning he realized from the state of the paper that this could not be done with the same letter every night. No matter. There would be further letters. They were as good as guaranteed.
Needless to add: a highly recommended book.
About the reviewer:Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy. Most likely the only Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English, his book reviews have appeared in a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, The SF Site, The Agony Column and Horrorworld.