Trying to understand Robert Aickman’s ‘strange’ stories – the term he preferred over ‘horror’ or ‘ghost’ – is like to trying to pick up smoke with a fork. For me they work like dreams you can feel fading away as you wake up: you remember much of what happened, but none of it quite makes sense, and in the end all you’re left with is a feeling of uneasiness you can’t put into words.
I don’t like all the stories in these four collections; I find some too vague for their own good, as though I’d been led down a dimly-lit passage to a brick wall, rather than the warped glass of a window onto a hidden world. But at his best – The Hospice; The Same Dog; The Trains; The Swords; Ringing the Changes; The Stains – nobody comes close to his peculiar achievement.
(Note: It took me about two years to read all the stories in these four books. I’ve always seen them as four parts of one volume, hence the inclusion of all four here.)