Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Wine Dark Sea – Robert Aickman

It feels like a while since I’ve written about fiction (I’m not counting ‘The Prisoner of Happy Hansel’). Truthfully I’ve not been able to settle down to reading much recently; I have a book group book that I need to finish and it seems to be taking forever and due to the one book at a time rule (this thing’s on a deadline after all) I feel bad if I pick up anything else. Short stories however can’t possibly count so I’ve been reading lots of those, and newspapers, and cookbooks – why is it taking me so long to finish one short novel I wonder?

Robert Aickman’s ‘The Wine Dark Sea’ arrived a few weeks ago courtesy of Faber Finds. A while back I found a Faber Find in Oxfam, carried it home gleeful, and then threw an almighty sulk because it was riddled with typesetting problems. After a comment to that effect on another blog Richard Kelly (Faber Finds editor) sent me an email where he very graciously promised me a copy of this particular book, I couldn’t say no.

As my previous experience of Aickman was limited to the bits of ‘The Unsettled Dust’ I managed to wade through ‘The Wine Dark Sea’ has been a bit of a revelation. I still don’t know much about Aickman but I understand why Faber Finds want to reprint him now, and why Kelly himself is a fan. I’m quite impressed that he went to the trouble of getting in touch (Kelly obviously, not Aickman who died 30 years ago – that would be far too much like one of his own stories). It’s the sort of thing I have to do (grudgingly sometimes) for difficult customers – it’s nice to be on the other side of the equation, and of course it works, I’ve gone from someone who didn’t have a good word for this particular imprint to someone who sings praises and leaps to the defence of Faber when occasion demands.

My first impression was that this was a collection of ghost stories – I started with one called ‘Your Tiny Hand is Frozen’ where a man develops an unhealthy relationship with the telephone and a voice on the other end of it. It’s deeply unsettling both as a tale of the supernatural and because I can no longer imagine how I functioned without my mobile phone. I love the way that Aickman plays with the idea of something simultaneously connecting the user to the outside world and cutting them off from it. The next story that attracted me was ‘Never Visit Venice’ which is also deeply unsettling but for different reasons, not so ghostly but rather straight up horror. By the time I’d finished the title story it became clear that Aickman just deals in the odd. This is the kind of odd that sticks in the mind worrying away at your imagination until you’re not at all sure what’s what.

The end result is this; I’ve had some very strange dreams, spend less time with my telephone always within arms reach and will probably be reaching for this around Halloween next year when I want something a little bit spooky but also reasonably subtle with it. I’m also confident about spending my hard earned cash on Faber Finds that appeal to me in the future which is daunting because their list is long and full of temptation.

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