I’ve been a fan of Robert Aickman for a number of years now after I was introduced to his work at university. And I’ve often returned to his stories at random moments, my subconscious usually looking for something a little bit off kilter. To read something weird. That is Aickman’s forte.
‘The Inner Room’ is typical Aickman, in that, the setting, and the characters, are fairly normal. There’s no castle and creepy monster. This isn’t straight up horror. No. But there is a young girl, and her recently purchased dolls’ house, bought from a decrepit bazaar in France.
Set between the 1920s and post-WW2 [I trust], the story follows Lene, a young girl, then a woman, who recalls the dolls’ house of her girlhood. You see, it isn’t just a doll’s house [when is it?]. It’s an uncanny object that confuses her consciousness and enters her subconscious, specifically when she dreams. The inhabitants are more than what they first appear, and, after her brother measures the house for a school project, he uncovers something strange – “There’s a part of the bottom floor I can’t get at. A secret room or something.” As we are transported from her childhood to her adulthood, there’s a real sense that the house has never let Lene go. This, in the end, is confirmed, when her dreams seem to appear a reality – the dolls’ house truly alive.
The masterful effects of Aickman are well known [or, they should be.] Though he isn’t perhaps pushing literary boundaries in terms of form or style, what he does so well, which is sometimes the hardest aspect to master, is tell a wicked story, from start to finish. His characters are full, and believable, despite the clear uncanny situation, and never does he once slip into farce, or the truly ridiculous. Yes, the dolls’ house is alive – but it isn’t told in a way which seems wholly implausible. A testament to the story itself, and the way it’s told.
‘The Inner Room’ is classic Aickman. Having read many of his short pieces of work, this is up there with the best of them. If you want to read something different, Aickman is always the way to go.
The Inner Room is published by Faber & Faber for more information about their Faber Stories and 90th Anniversary click here.
Robert Aickman is the author of close to 50 “strange stories” in the weird-tale and ghost-story traditions, two novels (The Late Breakfasters and The Model), two volumes of memoir (The Attempted Rescue and The River Runs Uphill), and two books on the canals of England (Know Your Waterways and The Story of Our Inland Waterways).
Reviewed by Emily Harrison
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