The short stories of Robert Aickman ... take place in an ordinary world (albeit that of the previous century) in which bizarre, supernatural events unfold with real originality. His storytelling is good, his writing is clean, he’s funny but understated, and the stories themselves are striking ... Aickman’s stories have more in common with surrealism than horror or fantasy ... The plot—like the dialogue—of a story can at first seem drawn out, abrupt, or incomplete. He constructs his sentences with obvious care, but includes details selectively rather than exhaustively. We might know more about a woman’s outfit on one page than we know about our protagonist’s entire appearance ... The person we follow in an Aickman story is often unremarkable: usually a man, generally a civil servant of a solitary disposition, who’s not particularly useful or skillful, and seems to be of ambivalent sexuality. Female protagonists, on the other hand, are generally much more capable than their male counterparts ... Regardless of the character at hand, Aickman’s descriptive choices are confident and effective. He is master of his own game.
Opening with the title story, we are immediately privy to the kind of awkward intimacies among humans that Aickman loved to portray ... Exiting this vividly intuitive yet rigorously formulated labyrinth of frustrated desires and derangements of the senses, of existential dread and numbly accepted confirmations of preternatural forebodings, the reader has a better sense of Aickman’s tropes and tactics. Quotidian boredoms are transmogrified into supernatural prisons, and every potential opening for expansion of the soul–new lovers, new houses, new rivers, new hikes–becomes a double-edged sword of entrapment ... Ultimately, these stories, striking and accomplished as they certainly are, serve mainly to underscore the uniqueness of Aickman’s tales, which originated from a mind shaped by an ethos and environment now as effectively extinct as Babylon or Byzantium.
In Aickman’s fiction, peculiarity is intertwined with a drab twentieth-century realism that is very English and sometimes dryly funny. Think Philip Larkin, or Barbara Pym, gone eldritch ... That the habits of these characters are far from exciting only intensifies the gathering strangeness; at some point, and it is always hard to tell exactly where, logic jumps the rails, which is to say that one finishes an Aickman story not really knowing if it has ended in reality or hallucination, waking or sleeping, the land of the living or of the dead ... Aickman does not isolate trouble within a particular object or document, which, if properly handled, will bring that trouble to an end. Instead, Aickman‘s characters will tend to arrive at a wholesale purgatory—but perhaps, amid their daily routine, that is where they already were.