↠´ Sub Rosa: Strange Tales ¼ Download by ç Robert Aickman

↠´ Sub Rosa: Strange Tales ¼ Download by ç Robert Aickman

Sub RosaEight tales by Robert Aickman, acknowledged as one of the finest British authors of ghost stories or what he himself termed “strange stories.
” As R.
Russell writes in his Introduction to this high quality Tartarus Press publication, the stories in Sub Rosa represent Aickman at the height of his powers.
Although I’m relatively new to Aickman (I’ve only read Compulsory Games and Night Voices), I entirely concur – a reader would have to dig deep to discover tales equal in their sheer dramatic force and nuanced poetic language.
Or, expressed in more concise modern parlance, every single tale in this collection packs a WALLOP (all caps to emphasize the impact).
And that's impact as in each tale had me reeling, especially after I read the concluding paragraph.
Let me tell you folks, Robert Aickman possessed unique storytelling gifts.

Every strange story in Sub Rosa deserves its own comprehensive review, most especially the three of novella length: The Inner Room, The Unsettled Dust and Into the Wood.
However, in the spirit of brevity, I'll contain myself and focus on two from the collection that will remain with me for years to come.

“John Trant entered the Cathedral of Saint Bavon at almost exactly 11:30.

That’s the opening sentence that serves to set the stage for this Robert Aickman masterpiece.
The cathedral is in Gent, Belgium and John Trant is a thirtytwo year old bachelor and, by his own account, an ordinary Englishman with a specific passion for travel.

What strikes Trant upon entering the vast building is its silence and the fact that, unlike the many other Belgian cathedrals he visited, he's alonealone, that is, except for the people in the tombs.
As his usual custom, he leans against a column and reads the history of the Cathedral in his guidebook; he then walks toward the front where the book notes: “Carved oak pulpit with marble figures, all by Laurent Delvaux.

But just then he spots something extraordinary: a figure in the pulpit slumping forward over the preacher’s cushion.
Trant could see “the top of a small, bald head with a deep fringe, almost a halo, of white hair; and, on each side, widespread arms, with floppy hands.
” The figure isn't a priest, rather he is wearing garments of several bright colors.

Although unnerved, Trant moves forward once more, passing the next column and looks again – the figure is gone.
At this point, Trant hears a laugh and turns round – behind him stands a slender young man in a grey suit.
The man speaks with a vague foreign accent: “Excuse me.
I saw it myself so don’t be frightened.
” Trant replies: “It was terrifying.
Out of this world,” to which the young man asks: “Did you notice the hair? Trant acknowledges he most certainly did and asks, in turn: “What did you make of it?” The young man answers: “Holy, holy, holy.

The figure in the pulpit and the exchange with the young man are but the first in a series of mysteries the English tourist encounters, including a number of the cathedral’s paintings, many horrific and grotesque in the extreme.
Trant converses with yet another young man and also has brushes with several boys that appear to him as if existing in another otherworldly realm (and might appear to the reader as creepy, creepy) .
Mystery upon mystery until the concluding eerie event whereupon the boys and young men along with the bald man with the white halo hair encircle Trant with arms outstretched and start singing.

Reading The Cicerones we can ask: What is the ultimate fate of our English tourist? During his tour, one of the boys points out a diptych depicting the blessed on one side and the lost on the other.
He also informs Trant he'll be there soon.
Like the many other scintillating aspects of this intricate, gripping yarn, Robert Aickman leaves the answer to the imagination of each reader.

CodaRobert Aickman wrote the following regarding this story: "The cathedral in The Cicerones was at Antwerp, but the events described in the story happened to me so precisely (almost) that I moved the whole thing, including all the detail, to the cathedral at Ghent.
I fear, therefore, that the student has to visit both cathedrals: not that he will regret doing so, or she.
" Which leads one to wonder where and how the author's "almost" came into play.

A tale that can be interpreted as the madness of art or the art of madness or both.
A story within a story that’s knotty and tricky, requiring more than an initial read to be fully appreciated.
So as not to divulge the tantalizing arc of plot, I’ll simply highlight four pieces contained within this literary chiller:

Artist – A British narrator relates his acquaintance with an unnamed British painter whose large canvases remind him of the late Charles Sims, specifically of such paintings as Am I Not The Light in the Abyss? As the frail, slim painter reflects on his own work: “My pictures are visionary and symbolical, and, from first to last, have seemed to be painted by someone other than myself.

Am I Not the Light in the Abyss by Charles Sims

An Artist's InfluencesThe slim artist discloses his relationship to art and artists, how art in general leaves him cold, especially when put on display for crowds; rather, art should always belong to individuals.
Likewise, most artworks by the great masters have little effect on him.
“On the other hand, in the painters who do affect me, I become almost completely absorbed: in their lives and thoughts, to the extent that I can find out about these things or divine them, as well as in their works.
” He goes on to specify the half dozen or so artists with whom he feels great affinity, above all, the Belgian artist James Ensor.
(By my eye the below Ensor painting captures much of the ghastliness the British artist encounters in this Aickman tale).

The Intrigue by James Ensor

Madame AAn old widow of one of the artists the British painter feels affinity.
She has been living in isolation in her house in Brussels for years and is more than happy to welcome the young artist into her home to share her memory and the paintings hanging in her many rooms.
Recall my mention of madness above.
"Her hairy legs were bare also, and her dull red dress was cut startlingly low for a woman of her years.
making her creased bosom all too visible.
" The more we learn of Madame A and her odd view of life and art, the more we are drawn into the ghastly and grotesque.

Creatures"Animals often appear in here," said Madame A.
"Dogs, cats, toads, monkeys.
" What is a Robert Aickman story without a tincture of menace and a hint of at least one ghost? Our Englishman artist is about to discover for himself.

British author Robert Aickman, 19141981 According to a number of sources, "Sub Rosa" is one of Robert Aickman's best works.
The book contains some of Aickman's longer stories.
Of the eight stories in the book I'll just talk about a few of them to give a taste of it.
Seven of the eight stories in the book concern travel or going elsewhere.

The first story in the book titled "Ravissante", which is french for delightful or enrapturing, concerns a young painter who visits the widow of a deceased painter.
The widow is old and ugly and quite bizarre.
As the woman appears to try and seduce the young painter the erotic tension and story's heat continually build as the woman's domineering commands entice the young man.
The story is truly creepy.
And what about that little dog ?

The next story is "The Inner Room" a story that concerns a little girls doll house which houses eight or nine strange little dolls.
Later in life the little girl finds the house while lost in a bog and must try to seek shelter within.
A story about guilt, neglect, and the power of the unconscious.

In "Never Visit Venice", driven by a recurring dream, the worldweary Henry Fern travels to Venice in the hope of some revelation.
Fern discovers Venice isn't the best of places until Fern takes a gondola ride with a mysterious woman in black.

Aickman likes to write about characters disappointed by ordinary life.

Next we have "The Unsettled Dust" as close as Aickman gets to a real ghost story.
Mr Oxenhope works for the Historic Structures Fund, which buys British country houses from their occupants and allows them to continuing living there in exchanging for maintaining the houses as museums.
Oxenhope meets the Brakespear sisters, whose covert feuds make for a series of uncomfortable evenings, and disrupt the sexual tension between the narrator and one of the sisters.
One night in his room, he sees a mysterious figure.

Aickmans stories are at times hard to analyze with one or two readings.
I read most of the stories in this volume multiple times.
my favorite story in the book was the last "Into the Wood" and was also the longest.
The story is about insomnia and is a story that brilliantly blurs the line between ordinary eccentricity and the supernatural.

Certainly a book to seek out.
Wouldst thou like to write sentences deliciously, like this?

I might compare them, though a little distantly, with the once controversial last works of the late Charles Sims: apparently confused on the surface, even demented, they made one doubt while one continued to gaze, as upon Sim's pictures, whether the painter had not in truth broken through to a deep and terrible order.

Of course, you would.
You're tired of Lovecraft's confused, adverbsodden descriptions.
Bored with his hundreds of pale imitators.
But you still want to capture that eerie sense of something missing.

You, my friend, want to read Robert Aickman.

Aickman's clarity and ability to plunge the reader under the water of the mind and personality of his narrator here locks the reader in and provides confidence that the author is going to deliver something special.
Reading this is a lesson in writing.
A graduate seminar, no less.
Like any class, there is at least one "slow" point, but this might be a mercy, rather than a failing.
Given the height of literary airs here, one must come down into the atmosphere to breathe, at least once.
Given the depths of subtlyhypnotic writing that draws the reader down like a longmissed lover on a warm bed, one must, for a moment, come up for air.

The opening breath, "Ravissante" is, at turns, wonderfully subtle, then ridiculous, then embarrassing, then horrifying.
There may or may not have been a supernatural element to the storya black poodle that was as much spider as dog, a domineering crone who stoked the bellows of lust in the narrator for a girl that may or may not have been real, an insectdemon, all of which might have just been occlusions of the mindor not.
Marlowe is banging his head against his sarcophagus because he knows what Faust could have been, since Aickman has shown the world how to best portray the invasion of the demonic into the banality of life on planet earth.
Five stars that may be either real or imagined.
You decide.
Aickman isn't telling.

As the trees around me became yet bigger and thicker, fear came upon me; though not the death fear of that previous occasion, I felt now that I knew what was going to happen next; or, rather, I felt I knew one thing that was going to happen next, a thing which was but a small and far from central part of an obscure, inapprehensible totality.
As one does on such occasions, I felt more than half outside my body.

"The Inner Room" is a creepy dollhouse story.
Take the best of Danielewski, Angela Carter, and Brothers Quay, stir it together, make the syntax perfectly exquisite, the imagery simultaneously vivid and murky, and each character's mannerisms subtly but thoroughly manifest through their dialogue and actions, with just a touch of philosophical insight into people's hearts, and you have a start.
But only a start.
Add this bit of inner dialogue, which accurately portrays the strange frisson that children often feel, or at least that I often felt as a child, before an ominous, momentous event:

As the trees around me became yet bigger and thicker, fear came upon me; though not the death fear of that previous occasion, I felt now that I knew what was going to happen next; or, rather, I felt I knew one thing that was going to happen next, a thing which was but a small and far from central part of an obscure, inapprehensible totality.
As one does on such occasions, I felt more than half outside my body.

which is reflective of the way I felt as I read this story.
Five stars.

"Never Visit Venice" coddles you in hope, warmth, and the promise of love.
It lulls you, like a gondola on the water.
Then, it thrusts you into the waves and begs, nay, insists the question: Is it preferred to live like a lion for an hour than to live a lifetime like an ass? Five stars above a lilac sky with the waves lapping up against the sides of your wooden gondola.

There's synchronicity in that I read "The Unsettled Dust" at the same time I read Est: Collected Reports from East Anglia.
A (un?)happy coincidence(?).
Like the landscape it's set in, this is a slow, malingering, matteroffact character study intertwined with the supernatural.
This one is a little more straightforward for Aickman, but still sprinkled with the dust of uncertainty.
Four stars.

"The Houses of the Russians" is a prime example of Aickman's ability to control pace.
You think you're coming to a horrific conclusion, then find out you're not.
You think you are going to gain some great knowledge, and you do not.
You think that the nightmare is over, but it has just begun.
Aickman says this is his own favorite story of the collection, but what does an author know about his own work? Nothing, I can assure you.
And though this is a fabulous story, I don’t think it’s the best of the collection.
Then again, how does one compare one story’s quality against another’s when every story is a miniature masterclass in writing? Five eerilymeandering stars to this tale of anachronistic spectres .
or not.

"No Stronger Than a Flower" is the one disappointing tale in the book; inscrutable, really.
Is Nesta a vampire, insane, or merely symbolic? Maybe all three? In any case, her withdrawal seems merely whimsical, perhaps a touch spoiled.
A mere three stars here.

AAAAH!!! CREEPY CHILDREN! "The Cicerones" has them.
This tale is particularly chilling when compared to the others in this collection.
“Sinister” doesn’t even begin to describe the level of paranoiainducing conspiracy that this tale dredges up from the catacombs.
I've got the shivers now.
And yet, this story still has that Aickmanesque power of understatement (unlike my screaming introduction to the paragraph).
The ending phrase "especially after everyone started singing," so seemingly innocent when seen alone, is absolutely one of the most terrifying things I have ever read in context.
I do not want to hear that hymn! Five stars.

The novella, "Into the Wood," the centerpiece of the book (though it appears last) is one of the most satisfying reads I've had all year.
Ostensibly a story about insomnia, it's really a (strange) tale about selfdiscovery and empowerment of the main characters, Margaret.
It's a walk into dreamlessness that blurs the line between night and day, erasing notions of the way things "should be," while remaining gentle and respectful of the needs of those who don't follow the same path.
It's about as feminist a work as a man writing in the early 1960s could produce.
Consider the thoughts of Margaret, the protagonist, who has accidentally checked in at a Scandinavian resort for insomniacs while her husband attends to business matters in a nearby city:

Margaret took a small pull on herself.
Henry must be broadly right and she broadly wrong, or life would simply not continue as it did, and more and more the same everywhere.
The common rejoinder to these feelings of rebellion was, as she knew well, that she needed a little more scope for living her own life, even (as a few Mancunians might dare to say) for selfexpression.
But that popular anodyne never, according to Margaret's observation of other couples, appeared in practice to work.
nor could she wonder.
It reduced the self in one to the status and limits of a hobby.
It offered one lampshade making, or so many hours a week helping the cripples and old folk, when what one truly needed was a revelation; was simultaneous selfexpression and selfloss.
And at the same time it corrupted marriage and cheapened the family.
The rustling, sunny forest, empty but labyrinthine, hinted at some other answer; an answer beyond logic, beyond words, above all beyond connection with what Margaret and her Cheshire neighbours had come to regard as normal life.
It was an answer different in kind.
It was the very antithesis of a hobby, but not necessarily the antithesis of what marriage should be, though never was.

This paragraph perfectly brings to light the desire and need I have to read and write "spooky" or "strange" fiction, as well as my drive to immerse myself so much into roleplaying games, and my penchant for strange art and hiking alone in the woods.
I've learned something about myself and my desires/needs that I couldn't articulate before, but Aickman renders clearly and compellingly into words.

The satisfaction of "Into the Wood" is worth the entire price of the book.
And, while Aickman thought "The Russian Houses" was one of his best stories (in this volume, at least), I think he underrates what he's created here.
The depth of insight here, into desire for selfsatisfaction (without hedonism) and into the pleasures (not sexual) of losing oneself, is profound.
This story is ripe for analysis, whether Marxist, feminist, or what have you.
I sense that this story would hold up to any sort of theoretical microscope under which it is examined.
It is a writer's story by a writer's writer, nearly perfect in every way.
Five stars.

If you are not a writer, have no fear.
Well, I take that back.
Have some fear, but let Aickman serve it to you in little, enticing doses of unease and just a hint that something isn't right, though it may be; but it probably isn't, unless you look at it in a certain way, which you shouldn't.
You think I'm full of vagaries? Try Aickman.
The difference is that Aickman's vagaries are as carefully measured and doled out, calculated, really, as mine are flippant and chaotic.
Aickman is in control.

Aickman is always in control.

Where is the "masterpiece" button because 5 stars are not enough.
Robert Aickman is criminally neglected.
A superb writer, one of a kind really.
Reading Sub Rosa was a unique reading experience.
I have felt the same way when I first read the work of Gene Wolfe (Wolfe also blurbed Aickman's novel "the model" and he really liked it so the connection here is justified).
I don't really want to tell anything regarding the stories because i will spoil the overall experience.
read it if you are into strange stories or atmospheric ghost tales.
The only thing that you must have in mind is that Aickman's stories need the reader's full attention because most of them are little puzzles and you don't want to lose any hints.
Otherwise you might not fully comprehend the meaning of the story.
Robert Aickman's stories are multidimensional and work in so many ways.
Robert Aickman and MR James are IMHO the finest writers of ghost stories ever and Sub Rosa includes Aickman's best work.
I read it in a library edition though I've got some of the stories in Aickman's superb Fontana modern collections.
Just as well, since it costs £32! The first tale of the collection, Ravissante tells of a curious manuscript of a painter that is being read by our protagonist upon the painter's death.
It tells of a strange episode in Belgium, where the artist is visiting the elderly widow of one of his favorite artists.
The story seems to thrive on alienation between the characters, nothing can be perceived until it’s too late.
Aickman’s prose and turn of phrases through the story create an atmosphere that is so unbelievably unsettling, it’s almost hard to read on at a certain point.
Details present themselves after finishing this tale, but they all hint at something far more terrible under the surface.
I can actually not remember being this badly shaken by a short story before.

The Inner Room tells of a strange childhood gift, an ornate dollhouse filled with eerie dolls, but seemingly sealed.
There is something off about the geometry of the house, a hidden room that will have some cryptic meaning for our protagonist in the future.

Never visit Venice has a dark pessimism lingering over it, not only of the state of Venice and the tourists that are slowly ruining the city but towards life itself.
The protagonist seems lost within his own mediocracy and trapped within an introverted state that he seems unable to fathom.
Seeking consolation in the company of women, he cannot seem to open himself to them either.
What he seeks is a dream, an illusion without a clear purpose.
He cannot clearly see the beginning of it, but there is a vague sense of familiarity over the looming dreadfulness of the ending.

The Unsettled Dust takes place in a curious and forgotten corner of England, where two elderly sisters live in a large home, immaculately kept, except for the dust everywhere.
Here Aickman draws forth something wonderfully eerie from his keen sense of place, and the notion of something unresolved in the past.
It struck me as poignant in the tale of a small river running through the landscape, so obscure that the people who live there haven’t even heard of it.
There is a notion here that some people would rather forget than try to mend the ravages of time.

The Houses of the Russians show how masterfully Aickman played with the reader's expectations, the oncoming denouement, and the supernatural in his tales.
Here as in many of his other stories, there lurks something more horrifying than is let on through the narrative somehow, a deeply disturbing clue that evades the reader’s attention.

No Stronger Than a Flowerexplores the complex expectations of a relationship.
Where a cruel demand is suddenly met and one part of the couple experiences a loss of control and strange new urges arise from it.
A makeover will bring change, total change sometimes not only physically but psychically as well.

In The Ciceronesa tourist's urge to experience something holy, something beyond a mere tourist attraction in a cathedral in Belgium.
Suddenly he finds himself trapped within something exalted, in communion with something he doesn’t understand.
I’m not sure I understand either, even upon the second reading of this eerie tale.

Into the Wood tells of a strange sanatorium nestled within the Swedish woods.
Filled with insomniacs, an English housewife experiences something strange during her 2day visit to the place.
It is as if the lack of sleep attunes them to something, another meaning found within the labyrinthine forests that surrounds the sanatorium.

The strangeness that lies over Aickman’s stories is hard to shake, some of them lingered with me for days in the back of my mind like a bad dream.
The prose is as complex and razorsharp as ever, each word seems carefully placed and works perfectly together to create his unique brand of terrifying mystery.
His incredible sense of place, characters, and strange situations cement him as one of the very greatest practitioners of the uncanny and ghostly, and Sub Rosa is one of the finest short story collections I’ve come across period.
I've read dozens of books of ghost stories by all the purported greats but somehow this writer has eluded me until now.
Aickman's stories are actually a cut above the usual as they don't ever have a moment of relying on a crutch, they are atmospheric to the extreme and carry with them those gentle hints of horror which make them truly terrifying.
All of the stories in this collection (except perhaps the slightly disappointing "No Stronger than a Flower") are stylistically similar in creating unsettling atmospheres of mood related to experiences to which you can relate, then gently, gradually draw you in, with ambiguous hints that pull you back and forth.
This is not the forthright horror of Lovecraft or the occult, devil/demonbased or violencefilled horror you might otherwise find, this is kind of like "cultured" horror, terrifying in what it hints at rather than what it reveals.

The stories all involve travel of some sort, and generally a "normal" character (although generally someone who is single and unattached) with normal thoughts to which you can relate.
They are generally placed in situations where odd things happen very gradually, and each presents a puzzle that the protagonist and the reader experiences together.
Some of it is maybe a little predictable, but the quality of the writing is exquisite (some of these stories would be excellent models for teachers of the craft).
The foreign settings also add to the mystery of the stories, many of them are remote, and all of them are interesting.

It's tough to name a favorite, as they each are effective in their own particular way.
I think perhaps "The Inner Room" with an abandoned dollhouse and the striking juxtaposition of the troubled family and the sentiments of the protagonist was the most psychologically complex and really rose to the level of great art.
"The Cicerones" must surely rank among the most terrifying stories ever written and to me would make an incredible short film if done right.

In all, strongest recommendation for horror enthusiasts and a step up from the usual fare.
If you appreciate finely crafted writing, ambiguity and subtlety, and like to be entertained with a book you won't be able to put down, a recommendation for you as well.
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I thought that genre was out of reach, and with it's $200 cost, it continues to be.
Does anyone know where I can find this book??