Robert Aickman

IdleRich

IdleRich
It absolutely sounds like Aickman.

I reckon it as Aitken. I don't know this guy at all well but my impression of him was that it's the sort of thing he might well like. In fact, the circumstances of our meeting was on this "Machen walk" in East/Central Londonn which was kinda like a Ripper Tour relating to the Welsh Lovecraft instead of the Royal Sex Murderer - pointing out a bench where he used to sit and write or a corner where he used to hang out with homeless people or whatever.

To give him his credit, there are numerous instances where he suggested that the ambiguities of a ghost story, the unanswered nagging demi-questions, are one of the points of writing about—or around—what we call 'the supernatural'. He dabbled in ghost and supernatural societies too - so there is something in this in the sense of his valuing vague possibilities over reduced and flat explanations.

I'm not sure I said this very well yesterday but what I was thinking is that, most likely, I would imagine most of the people here would view an Agatha Christie style ending in which everything is perfectly explained and every loose end neatly tucked away as overly simplistic - something we might expect as a child, but which, maybe by adulthood we've grown out of. We recognise that life isn't like that and we expect literature to reflect that.

But actually, I think that there is room for all types. Stories that finish neatly tied up, or with some ambiguity, or even with so much ambiguity we barely know if something happened, never mind what - these are all simply different options in the story teller's toolbox. Between them they create variety - and let's face it, if we know every time we embark on a story, that the ending will inevitably never provide all the answers, then that in itself becomes a kind of rigid predictability. Imagine how surprised you would be if, in an anthology of Robert Aitken, one of his stories unexpectly finished with a detailed explanaton of every single little event that had happened and how it bore on what happened later and so on - that would surely shock the reader far more than any subtly implied hint of supernatural events creepily impinging on our daily grind.
 

forclosure

Well-known member
I reckon it as Aitken. I don't know this guy at all well but my impression of him was that it's the sort of thing he might well like. In fact, the circumstances of our meeting was on this "Machen walk" in East/Central Londonn which was kinda like a Ripper Tour relating to the Welsh Lovecraft instead of the Royal Sex Murderer - pointing out a bench where he used to sit and write or a corner where he used to hang out with homeless people or whatever.



I'm not sure I said this very well yesterday but what I was thinking is that, most likely, I would imagine most of the people here would view an Agatha Christie style ending in which everything is perfectly explained and every loose end neatly tucked away as overly simplistic - something we might expect as a child, but which, maybe by adulthood we've grown out of. We recognise that life isn't like that and we expect literature to reflect that.

But actually, I think that there is room for all types. Stories that finish neatly tied up, or with some ambiguity, or even with so much ambiguity we barely know if something happened, never mind what - these are all simply different options in the story teller's toolbox. Between them they create variety - and let's face it, if we know every time we embark on a story, that the ending will inevitably never provide all the answers, then that in itself becomes a kind of rigid predictability. Imagine how surprised you would be if, in an anthology of Robert Aitken, one of his stories unexpectly finished with a detailed explanaton of every single little event that had happened and how it bore on what happened later and so on - that would surely shock the reader far more than any subtly implied hint of supernatural events creepily impinging on our daily grind.
have you ever read Jim Thompson,Idle? more than one of his stories end on a note that's not even so much ambiguous as just left on a note that's so strange and singular that it had me saying "WHAT?" out loud by the end of it
 

forclosure

Well-known member
it's good to read a story that just leaves things out like that i think this is just another example of "spoiler culture" raring its ugly head where the effects and power a story has gets reduced down to either being a series of twists or details revealed that for some reason is thought to "ruin" the story even if its just character background stuff.

but at the same time there's this thing i've noticed with some folk where its like if you don't say it outright everytime you might aswell not be saying anything, makes me think of how decades ago when people would still want to talk Tupac v Biggie, one of the critiques lobbed at Big was that he was a gifted technical but there was "no depth" to anything he rapped about just boiled down to robbing people or materialism when compared to Tupac who for better and for worse wore his politics on his sleeves.
 

version

Warehouse Operative
I read some of M. John Harrison's short stories a while back and was struck by him leaving things out.

You'd get dumped into the middle of something, follow it for a bit then get chucked out again with no real resolution or explanation as to what had just happened.
 
  • Like
Reactions: you

IdleRich

IdleRich
have you ever read Jim Thompson,Idle? more than one of his stories end on a note that's not even so much ambiguous as just left on a note that's so strange and singular that it had me saying "WHAT?" out loud by the end of it
Have read... "no" - but I am holidng one of his in my hand right now and I have a few pages of it, so soon I will be able to answer in the affirmative.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
it's good to read a story that just leaves things out like that i think this is just another example of "spoiler culture" raring its ugly head where the effects and power a story has gets reduced down to either being a series of twists or details revealed that for some reason is thought to "ruin" the story even if its just character background stuff.

but at the same time there's this thing i've noticed with some folk where its like if you don't say it outright everytime you might aswell not be saying anything, makes me think of how decades ago when people would still want to talk Tupac v Biggie, one of the critiques lobbed at Big was that he was a gifted technical but there was "no depth" to anything he rapped about just boiled down to robbing people or materialism when compared to Tupac who for better and for worse wore his politics on his sleeves.
If you ever saw Fellini's Satyricon, I believe that part of the reason that it's so hard to follow - in that, they will be in one place doing one thing, and then suddenly they are in a completely different scene - is that he adapted it from a work which survived only in fragments and he chose to adapt the fragments including the gaps. A different way to arrive at a similar result I suppose.
 

you

Well-known member
I read some of M. John Harrison's short stories a while back and was struck by him leaving things out.

You'd get dumped into the middle of something, follow it for a bit then get chucked out again with no real resolution or explanation as to what had just happened.

I think that's a wonderful aspect of M. John Harrison's stories, especially in You Should Come With Me Now. There's always the sense of something else, something unsaid, a denied subtext, but it seems to lurk there formed of nothing. One cannot turn the pages back and evidence what gives rise to this gnawing feeling (which I'd say is a register how strong Harrison's 'voice' is)..... Despite having some 'traditional' gambits and premises in the narratives one always feels to have missed something, to be picking up the story late, the narratives feel chronologically awry. That's one of his brilliances, for me.

Harrison is more than aware of Aickman, of course. And the obvious comment is to point out they both explore the smudge of fantasy/horror/supernatural with the psychological. Screw-y types if you're being glib. But there is something else between them i cannot help but see:

There is a classic anecdote of Aickman being asked, on a boating holiday of course, if it would rain. He pauses, for too long, and slowly turns to the person that posed this anodyne excuse for conversation, and looks them in eye and says. 'Yes.' It will always rain - but when? 'Everything about time is hideous' to quote Aickman. Aickman was a great orator, a great conversationalist, as a speaker he found most success - or at least easiest success. But this line about 'will it rain' is a register of how he'd find the ominous or significant in the matter of fact. Many said he wasn't quite a liar or overly fictitious, nor was it quite selective memory, but he'd find significance in one small detail of the day and that is how it's be recalled. All this reminds me of Harrison's knack for finding the weight of possibility and dread in these everyday verbal ticks. In Climbers (I think) the narrator sees two old women fretting above a basement flat. They are worried about a cat trapped below. They say it could be trapped or anything.

I'm pretty sure Harrison repeated the words 'or anything' at the start of the following paragraph. Later he'd do something similar but with more subtlety. Often leaving these seemingly innocuous sayings as non-sequiturs. His intention is most clear in Climbers, an earlier work.
 

forclosure

Well-known member
i can't speak much on Harrison in that i've only read The Pastel City and a little bit of Light, the latter i bounced off of it the first time i read it but this time around i'm getting more out of it.

Pastel City was a interesting Jack Vance style pastiche i hear the 2nd book goes in a stranger direction though

btw @IdleRich still ain't told me what Jim Thompson book you started reading
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
There is a classic anecdote of Aickman being asked, on a boating holiday of course, if it would rain. He pauses, for too long, and slowly turns to the person that posed this anodyne excuse for conversation, and looks them in eye and says. 'Yes.' It will always rain - but when?
Reminds me of this guy I used to know who did this thing where he would say "can you smell onions?" and then you would most likely sniff a bit and say "no" and then he would say "What, even if you hold them right up by your nose?" - it was very disconcerting and sinister.

M John Harrison. Love the way he writes when he puts his mind to it. And I found his books made quite a lasting impression on me, or left me thinking about them for quite a long time after - without my necessrily enjoying them. I'd never thought of him and Aickman at the same time but now you say it... certainly there was one book, I forget what it was called, but these guys did some kind of rite or something and afterwards their lives all went kind of wrong, in sort of mundane ways that might have been nothing at all to do with that. But also there was this sort of implied horror around them which - I agree, much like Aickman - never materialised into anything beyond a few hints but which was quite creepy and - like all his books - depressing. And really this worn out sadness is the main feeling I get from his books. Which is probably why they are hard to enjoy.
 

version

Warehouse Operative
I think that's a wonderful aspect of M. John Harrison's stories, especially in You Should Come With Me Now.
Yeah, that's the one I read - loved it. Felt it was all middle, no beginning and no end. You'd just get fragments of a process or situation, like seeing a ghost and just having to deal with it. You've been shown something and that's all you can really say, that something's happened.

'uncanny' was the word that often came to mind.
 

catalog

Well-known member
I read "The Trains" in a few sittings, finished this morning. Really good, will be checking out more soon.

He's definitely like Joel Lane, but a much better writer in the sense of it being quite confident, nice flowing prose. Maybe not as good in terms of subject matter, but only cos it's so distant and feels very reminiscent of Christie, Hitchcock, ghost, dream and detective stuff in general.

I also like the tense he writes in, don't know what it's called. Where it's like it's mainly from the point of view of one of the protagonists, but not quite first person. Third person something? It works well, cos it's not so intense as first person, not so many "I"s, but it's still identifiably someone.

Story is a couple of girls out hiking and they get stuck in bad weather, take refuge in an old station house, bad vibes.

Sort of reminds me of Bolano - simmering sexual tension, lots of ratcheting up, sudden ending which doesn't explain much. Also Patrick Hamilton, same era I suppose. Just before the 60s break. All that pentupness.

Copied out these bits:

"I thought we might end this delightful evening in my den; my study, you know. It's much warmer and cosier. I don't usually show it to visitors. I like to keep somewhere private. for work, you know. But you are no ordinary visitors. I've just looked in and there's even a fire burning." This last slightly odd remark was not to Margaret made less odd by the way it was spoken; as if the speaker had prepared in advance a triviality too slight to sustain preparation convincingly.

Suddenly, looking at Mimi sprawling in her trousers and tight high-necked sweater, Margaret saw the point, clearer than in any book: Mimi was physically attractive; she herself in all probability was not. And nothing else in all life, in all the world, really counted. Nothing, nothing. Being cleverer on the whole (as she thought) kinder; more refined; the daughter of a Lord: such things were the dust beneath Mimi's chariot wheels, items in the list of life's innumerable unwantable impedimenta.

The room seemed to be filling with colourless light. Though even now this light was extremely dim, the process of its first appearance and increase seemed to have been going on for a very long time. As she realised this, another part of Margaret's mind remembered that it could none the less have been only a matter of minutes. She struggled to make consistent the consciousness of the nearly endless with the consciousness of the precisely brief. The light seemed, moreover, the exact visual counterpart of the noise she had heard made by the new train.

Someone's done an essay on it http://noondaystars.blogspot.com/2011/11/blood-and-iron-robert-aickmans-trains.html not great tbh, although it does talk about his ambivalence with regard to trains / industrial progress in general. Again like Hamilton I guess.
 
  • Like
Reactions: you

you

Well-known member
It's probably better to say aspects of Lane's writing recall Aickman. As the latter was active first. Interesting that Nina Allan refers to herself and Lane as "two Aickmanites against the Jamesians" see https://www.ninaallan.co.uk/?p=1389

I'm not sure if I prefer Aickman's style or Lane's. It is obvious Lane wrote poetry, and I think I enjoy the imagery more in Lane's writing - but he is working at a more starkly vivid and visceral end. Aickman is more terse, more convoluted and buttoned up - which lends itself well to his unreliable narrators or a recalcitrance to detail or divulge. It also underscores my impression of him as this LP Hartleyesque/Mr. Stevens Edwardian-out-of-time figure.

They have more in common in terms of canals and ambiguous endings than prose style.

The Trains - I should re-read that one. It's one of his more well-known stories and often referenced but I never felt it was a strong one compared to others.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
I read "The Trains" in a few sittings, finished this morning. Really good, will be checking Story is a couple of girls out hiking and they get stuck in bad weather, take refuge in an old station house, bad vibes.
Isn't there another story where a guy has to stay overnight in an abandoned old station near the new one cos he misses a train or something? Wonder if it's supposed to be the same one...
 

catalog

Well-known member
I dunno this is the only one I've read of his so far. But in that essay, he talks about when he gave a speech when winning an award and trains crop up. Think they are a running theme.

@you for some reason I like that buttoned up style don't know why.

Definitely interesting how much canals feature as an interest for both, as they are for me. Love a good canal, always seem to gravitate towards them. I'm waiting for the day when motorways become canals.
 
Top