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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
14
4.4 out of 5 stars


on 9 October 2017
Aickman is a genuine treasure and this collection brings together some fantastic examples of his unsettling pokings into the uncanny. Nothing is eer fully explained and nothing as comfortable as genre is truly employed. Notes from a young girl's diary or a dog story, Aikman has a dark fusty wit that leaks all over the carpet.
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on 2 March 2017
I picked this up on the recommendation of a friend, and loved it. The stories are wonderfully crafted, teasing you with just enough detail to be deeply unsettling, without ever totally lifting the veil and revealing all. This is a book I will be coming back to again and again.
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on 3 November 2015
This certainly an intriguing and unsettling writer, very different and very original. These are not ghost or horror stories but tales of the weird. Aickman himself called them 'strange stories'. He manages to subvert the mundanities of day to day life and to dig out the incertitudes behind them - this is his real strength. But the reader gets no explanation, only the mystery, and it is very cleverly done with a building up of atmosphere and detail.By far and away the best of these short stories is The Hospice- think of a variation on the Psycho theme; stranded traveller enters normal -looking place that turns out to be anything but normal. You are very much in the territory here of The League of Gentlemen TV series, whose writers were influenced by Aickman. The Same Dog has a killer pair of closing lines, and I loved the symbolism in The Clock Watcher and the personification of the clocks. I would say do not start by reading the first story- The Swords- as I did, as it may put you off. I was nearly deterred but once you switchd around the different stories and you find the good ones, you realise it is very worthwhile carrying on. I found Niemandswasser very puzzling but the other charm of Aickman is that he leaves the reader to work it out for themselves. The Sitwell introduction says it all about Aickman: "it is the mystery that lasts, not the explanation "(only you don't get an explanation anyway from Aickman) I really did not understand Meeting Mr Millar and it rambled on far too long, which is why this is a 4 star review. The Real Road to the Church was intriguing although not completely clear. It is good to have access to these once difficult- to- find stories. I shall be rereading these stories and suspect I will get new things out of a re read, and I will look for other work by him. He is not like anyone else.
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on 14 December 2014
very good, fast service
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on 26 June 2009
This book was published in 1975 and was the fifth of the eight original collections of the author's short stories. The works in it have been dated between 1969 and 1975; all but one were from the early/mid-1970s, near the end of the author's career.

During his lifetime, Aickman published 47 short stories, and two more pieces have come into print since his death in 1981. For this reader, the best of his short works from throughout his career succeeded in balancing four elements: hypnotic developments and action, mesmerizing and dreamlike images that captured a character's inner life, an uncovering of the ways people behave toward each other, and a haunting and open-ended conclusion.

Model stories combining these things included "The Trains" (1951), "Ringing the Changes" (1955) and "The Swords" (1969). Almost as good were "The Inner Room" (1966) and "The Hospice" (1975), despite extra layers of obscurity or developments bordering on parody. By comparison, many other pieces by the author often contained something memorable but felt lacking in one element or another. Another type of worthwhile story from this writer expressed a bit more of what might be called his philosophical outlook, and for me the clearest of these was "The Wine-Dark Sea" (1966). Others were "Into the Wood" (1968) and "The View" (1951).

The present collection contained just two of the stories named above: "The Swords" and "The Hospice," works about sexual initiation and death, and which were mainly what made this collection worthwhile. The rest of the later pieces here, for me, were in the category of "not his best," comparatively lacking in depth and power; they were from a period when the pacing of his stories seemed to grow increasingly deliberate, the text longer and the prose heavier. "Pages from a Young Girl's Journal," set in Italy in the early 1800s, was a rare story for Aickman in that it contained a vampire, but felt overly obscure and didn't come close to rivaling something like LeFanu's "Carmilla."

Currently the cheapest options for assembling a large number of Aickman's short stories are the reprint collections Painted Devils and the New York edition of The Wine-Dark Sea, which together with the present collection contain 28 pieces altogether, including all of the pieces named above. In my opinion, Wine-Dark Sea and Painted Devils are better places to start, while Cold Hand is for those who are looking mainly for the writer's later, more deliberate tales. It's a pity that Cold Hand in Mine is the cheapest, most widely available collection for Aickman; it's not the most representative collection of work throughout his career.

Some excerpts:

"Life, as we know it, could hardly continue if men did not soon slay the dreamer inside them. There are the children to think of; the mothers who breed them and thus enable our race to endure; the economy; the ordered life of society."

"Men's dreams, their inner truth, are unheimlich also . . . . If any man examines his inner truth with both eyes wide open, and his inner eye wide open also, he will be overcome with terror at what he finds."

"Daily life is entirely a matter of the pattern men and women impose upon it . . . . None the less, reality lies far behind, and is unchangeable: is ritual, in fact."

"We control nothing of importance that happens to us."

"'Who am I?' whispered Rosa. 'And who are you?' 'I am your soul,' replied a remote voice she did not know."
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on 21 January 2013
It's rare to come across a writer who is truly sui generis, but Aickman certainly comes close. True, some of these stories follow well-worn genre conventions; 'Pages from a young girl's diary' could be read as a straightforward Bram stoker period pastiche. However, scratch the surface and Aickman yields unsettling rewards; 'Cold hand in Mine' reads like a series of allegories - but the author deliberately refuses to enlighten us as to what lessons we are supposed to learn.
Since Aickman described his own work as 'strange tales' it's tempting to pigeonhole him with Lovecraft, Blackwood and Machen as another proponent of Weird Fiction. Aickman seems to me to be an altogether subtler and more modern writer. Where Lovecraft's baroque fantasies conjure a terror of the material universe and BLackwood focuses on the uncanny in the natural world, Aickman dwells on the inner landscape of psychology, more specifically, sexuality.
This collection is worth buying for 'the swords' and 'the hospice' alone - these are true classics of short fiction in which the quotidian and the carnivalesque meet in a macabre dance. Both leave you asking questions.
Aside from the slightly hammy Gothic of 'Niemandswasser', Aickman typically adopts a flat, unaffected tone. This seems to lie at the heart of his genius: there's something so matter-of-fact in his expression that any weirdness we experience seems our own, and not his. Furthermore, this matter-of-factness allows Aickman to subtley misdirect us from the fact that his key characters are far from straight-forward. The narrator in 'the Swords' seems embarrassed, smug and coldly unsympathetic at once. Similarly, the protagonist of 'The Hospice' seems like a typical English innocent abroad (even if 'abroad' in this case is a peculiarly drab version of suburbia), but the power of the story lies as much in his indifference to suffering as his terror. 'Meeting Mr. Millar' features a young writer who affects moral outrage at the (never specified) activities of Millar involving drink and women . we barely notice that the writer is a pornographer engaged in an affair with a married mother of young children.
Downsides? It would have been nice to have had 'Ringing the Changes' (perhaps his masterwork) in the same collection. Also, while Faber deserve applause for rescuing these stories, you can't help feeling that he deserves a properly edited collection (rather than this print-on-demand chop-job).
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on 16 April 2012
Robert Aickman's stylistic proclivities are in line with such writers as Algernon Blackwood and H.P. Lovecraft - (and more recently Thomas Ligotti owes Aickman a debt) - in that his stories are characterised by a wanton sense of ambiguity and a frequent refusal to provide the reader with any kind of closure or resolution. It's telling that Cold Hand in Mine quotes in epigraph Sacheverell Sitwell, "In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation", and I took this as a useful heuristic when faced with the frustration of an abruptly ended story or the never-arrival of a long-teased denouement. `The Swords', for example, opens with the sexually suggestive question "My first experience?" and a short biography from the narrator that baits the reader into expecting an entirely conventional loss of virginity bildungsroman. What follows, however, is a journey to that staple locale of so many classic horror stories: the out-of-the-way mist-shrouded town, and an encounter with a strange kind of theatre in which a woman is repeatedly stabbed by members of the audience - (coming to no apparent harm) - before being sold as prostitute to our narrator and literally falling to pieces during the sex act. It's tempting to paste some hackneyed psychoanalytical significance onto the repeated stabbing of the woman, and the sexual metaphor of swords as phallic substitute is perhaps a little too in-your-face; but fundamentally this is a narrative that demands reader-input and analysis if it's to make any kind of sense. The language of performance coupled with the theatre sequence definitely casts the reader in the role of scopophiliac audience member, consigning all sex scenes to acts of inherent voyeurism with the reader as the third party onlooker. The sense of horror is thus created when the act of reading is equated with passive observation, suggesting that you, as just another audience member, are, by continuing to read, somehow complicit in the mass on-stage rape of this woman. Furthermore, the woman's gross disintegration under the inexperienced thrusting of our protagonist can be read as either i) non-literal nightmare manifestation of his sexual anxieties and naivety; ii) a heartbreaking metaphor for the psychological disconnection the prostitute has to make during sex between her inner self and her physical body: a kind of mind//body separation that functions as self-preservation; or iii) a telling moment of tragic revelation in which the prostitute's apparent immunity to the on-stage stabbing is finally broken down and her true pain revealed: her on-stage and back-stage personas being not so different, after all. The `death of innocence' so often explored in works of sexual initiation is here coupled with a much more bleak and literal examination of death.

But not all of Cold Hand in Mine's stories are so analytically yielding. It's anybody's guess what strange combination of folk tale, ghostlore and German mythology have gone into creating `Niemandswasser', in which a reclusive and suicidal German lord wrestles with doppelgangers, sibling rivalry and a strange correlation of literal topographic borders with the finer internal boundaries between mental balance and madness: a kind of horror that ties humanity to nature not in a way that's organic and beautiful, but in a manner which exposes man to all of nature's violent vagaries, inconsistencies and dangers. Elsewhere, `The Real Road to the Church' sees a demonic and otherworldly funeral procession pass through the garden of protagonist Rosa's new island home, coupled with an almost Socratic exchange between Rosa and a retired priest that's peppered with unnervingly personal and quasi-romantic non-sequiturs, "I can hear the beating of your heart". Precisely what's going in is difficult to pin down, but that's entirely the point: the stories of The Weird function at their highest when they transcend the everyday and the predictable, even rendering the language of exegesis imprecise and unhelpful. The more I tried to dig out these stories' foundations, the more I felt like I was just piling stuff on top of them.

It's probably somewhat ironic, then, that the most disappointing stories of Cold Hand in Mine are those that offer the comfort and succour of logical explanation. When, for instance, the vampire in `Pages from a Young Girl's Journal' is revealed to be just that: a vampire, I couldn't help but feel deflated. Before Aickman's `big reveal', the vampire could have been anything; the ultimate revelation is a massive letdown in the face of the story's brilliant lexical pastiche of Jane Austen-esque romance, which would have benefited from a much more avant-garde supernaturalism. What we get instead is a fairly run-of-the-mill, period vampire romance. If The Weird has an agenda to horrify with the suggestion of an unknowable other, it fails itself when resorting to specificity and explanation; that which is sensible cannot be Weird.

And that's really the crux of it. Robert Aickman's best stories are not yours, not mine; they're not even his, because when it hits its stride, Cold Hand in Mine is so unknowably strange and tenebrously cryptic that the reader is almost too scared to look deeper: the suggestion is that the truth of these tales is even more horrific than their mysteries. So it's never the narrator who is uninformed, nor the by-standing secondary characters, nor the landscapes themselves: it's the reader who is exterior. The paranormal hysteria generated by the almost-living steampunk-esque time pieces in `The Clock Watcher' makes perfect sense to Ursula, likewise the titular protagonist of `Meeting Mr Millar' knows exactly what strange things go on in his offices. Cold Hand in Mine is successful because it doesn't show something `other' to the reader, instead it makes something `other' out of the reader; the reader is on the outside: and what could be more strange, horrific or, indeed, Weird than realising that it's not the world or it's people that're mad: it's you.
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on 28 February 2012
I came across Robert Aickman's stories via Jeremy Dyson, the author of two collections of short stories of a similar style ('Never Trust A Rabbit' and 'The Cranes That Build The Cranes', both excellent). Aickman always desecribed his short stories as 'Stange Stories' rather than ghost stories, or horror. He was right to do so - this collection showcases his talents across a range of subjects.

I haven't read his other collections, but Cold Hand In Mine served as as good an introduction as any other - good variation of styles and subjects. None of these tales are terrifying, instead I found them unnerving, intriguing and chilling. Personal favourites are 'Swords' - unnerving and delightful in the way its told - and 'The Hospice', perhaps the best of the bunch.

If you like short stories, and books like 'The Wasp Factory' then this author is for you. Published by Faber Finds, there are a few typos here and there, but as there's no other inexpensive way of owning them, this is a small price to pay.
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on 4 November 2016
Promptly delivered, well packaged. Master storyteller by all accounts, I'm sure to enjoy Aickman's highly recommend collection. Looking forward to reading - five stars!
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on 29 December 2016
A few brilliant stories in here, and some that aren't good to the point that they seem to be written by a different author. A mixed bag.
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