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Cold Hand in Mine: Strange Stories by Robert…

Cold Hand in Mine: Strange Stories (1975)

by Robert Aickman

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Cold Hand in Mine is a fine collection of eight of Robert Aickman's utterly unique brand of "strange stories" - so unique as to be difficult to describe. While there are elements of horror and the supernatural, the stories to not neatly fit into those genres. These are stories of uncanny occurrences set within an eerie atmosphere. But the stories are not straightforward: events and circumstances are often sketchy; there are likely valid clues throughout, but since the endings are often open-ended or ambiguous, it's hard to connect the dots to a firm conclusion. Much is subject to interpretation. In general we find protagonists in increasingly odd situations, psychologically searching for explanations, desperately grasping for an understanding of what they're experiencing. And even at the end, the reader is left as bewildered as the protagonist. Truly unsettling stuff. The stories seem to demand multiple readings. Standouts include "The Swords": A traveling salesman encounters a bizarre sideshow act at a local fair; "The Hospice": Lucas Maybury, hopelessly lost, famished, and nearly out of petrol, enters an establishment offering most unusual accommodations; "The Same Dog": Hilary Brigstock, many years after a repressed traumatic childhood incident, finally gains some insight into exactly what happened; and "Meeting Mr Millar": A struggling writer is intrigued and alarmed by the odd behaviour of one of the tenants in his apartment building. ( )
1 vote ghr4 | May 15, 2018 |
Originally published in 1975, Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickmn is a collection of short stories that highlight his ability at writing “strange” or “weird” fiction. There are eight stories in this collection and they verge on the supernatural but always with an ambiguous tone that leaves the reader wondering what just happened.

Included in this book are some tales that are slightly familiar in theme such as “Page’s From A Young Girl’s Journal” in which a young English girl travels through Italy and meets a handsome stranger who leaves her with a familiar wound on her neck and a craving to sink her teeth into other necks. Other stories are much more puzzling, often the climax of the story is left dangling and the reader is left with unanswered questions. The opening story “Swords” is a fine example of a story that not so much frightens as it disturbs and dismays.

These stories are far from the classic ghost story, yet they speak to our fears and uncertainties. With their chilling atmosphere and multi-levelled meanings, Cold Hand in Mine leaves the reader uneasy with feelings of uncertain menace and dread. Personally I am not very comfortable reading this type of story, as I always wonder if I am missing something, but this collection was an intriguing look at this author’s very original “weird” fiction. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Mar 11, 2018 |
This particular collection of stories was referred to in one of my books on horror authors (I think it was this one), and (only three stories in when I write this bit) I can definitely say that Aickman is a master of atmosphere. So far all of them seem to have a "Victorian age or older" writing style, as if they were stories written in the distant past. There's also a lot of suspense of the "something bad is going to happen, but when?!" kind in all of the stories, such that they're all sort of nerve wracking.

Dedication quote:
"In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation."
- Sacheverell Sitwell
"For Want of the Golden City"And I have to stop and say what is it with all these Sitwells? I've had a family biography on my (Amazon) wish list for a while (at least I think it's that one)(nope! it was this one), and I just bought Edith's autobiography, and I'm currently reading a biography of Dorothy Parker that notes she wanted to be another Edith Sitwell. That's a great deal of Sitwell references in a week or so.

The Swords
Main character is in a strange town and comes upon a strange faire with a sideshow. He meets up with the sideshow people, in particular a girl who's part of a very disturbing sword act. And I'll leave it at that because - well, weirdness occurs.

The Real Road to the Church
Main character lives in a house that is in a way haunted, and then meets what she's been told to avoid. ...Not entirely sure how to say anything more about what she meets - it's very much a multiple meanings kind of story.

This story really feels like an old tale, written in a much much earlier time. You could place it in many an old anthology of ghost stories and fool everyone completely. Also really hard to sum up in a sentence or two.

Pages from a Young Girl's Journal
Particularly good at giving you the sense of how very young the author of the journal is. In particular she picks up a friend's use of the word farcical and then uses it repeatedly. It's a very good example of writing as a character:
p. 66 "...I find that I have been scribbling away for nearly an hour. Miss Gisborne keeps on saying that I am to prone to insertion of unnecessary hyphens, and that it is a weakness. If a weakness it is, I intend to cherish it."The journal writer also peppers her story with allusions to books she's read and author's names. And Byron and Shelly make a physical (rather than just quoted) appearance in the story - but only as an aside, not really part of the main plot.

The copy of Cold Hand that I'm reading is a used book, enscribed Joan Nielsem, March 12 - 1982, Songview, Wash. There's the rare marking of the text here and there, but on a page in this story is written in the top margin:
p. 90 "Feb. 22, 1982 - 12;47am - heavy rain starting to fall. Everything very quiet in the house, so quiet that I am afraid to put out my night lamp."Seems that someone was getting very into the spirit of the story.

The Hospice
The main character bumps into a strange sort of inn after losing the way in the thick fog and running out of gas. And I'm not quite sure how to describe what happens next except that the whole thing seems like a very bad dream.

The Same Dog
A childhood trauma, and then a return to the scene. Another weird and creepy one.

Meeting Mr. Millar
Who or what Mr. Millar is isn't something I can really sum up. The story, like others, begins by seeming very old fashioned:p. 146 "...With this very pen in fact; and I was using the same pen when a year or two after the war (the real war - the first one), I took up my abode at the top of a house in Brandenburg Square. Fountain pens could then be had that were designed, positively, to last at least one lifetime."At least as far as using fountain pens can be assumed to be not a modern affectation. Then suddenly, not quite so old fashioned:p. 147 "...the basic bread and butter of my income was provided by the odd employment of going over other people's pornographic manuscripts and turning them into saleable books. As pornography is no longer as badly thought of as it was, I can mention that this work was given me by a man named Major Valentine."This is a good example of how Aickman always keeps you guessing/confused as to what time period you're in.

Aickman is great at these sorts of humorous asides:
p. 158 "...One does not wear one's best clothes for editing a pornographic manuscript alone in an attic; and also I had in those days a habit of unconsciously running my right hand (I am left-handed) through my hair as I wrote, wrecking whatever parting there might have been, and making myself look like the picture in the German book for children, my hair being then unusually thick and wiry."

The Clock Watcher
Story of a couple in England after the second World War. And there's something ...unusual about the wife. Another story that you are left to ponder what exactly happened, and how reliable the narrator may be. I did love this description:p. 193 "The clocks that Ursula brought into the house were not all grotesque in themselves: not all of them were carved into grinning gnomes, or giants with long teeth, or bats with wings that seemed to have altered their positions from time to time, though never when one was looking (or, once more, never when I was looking) - though some of them were, indeed, carved in those ways."

This hasn't been the sort of book that I've wanted to read one story after the other, all at once. Instead I've read each story and then set the book aside, because thinking over the story and pondering the creepiness of the scenes has been rather nice.

I keep trying to come up with a better descriptive word and keep coming back to creepiness (it's the best fit) - the kind that's definitely in the bounds of horror - but because you're never 100% sure exactly what's going on, you're left with questions - and the creepiness. The story that sticks in your head and makes you keep thinking of it - not grossed out or unhappy or depressed (well, not with all the stories) - and pondering what actually may have happened. Which is just the sort of story I like. Though I'll admit that I will have to add The Swords to my "ok, this was disturbing" list. Thinking about what really was going on in that story - well, it's still in my head. Yeek. ( )
3 vote bookishbat | Sep 25, 2013 |
Just masterful, what else is there to say? ( )
  Georges_T._Dodds | Mar 30, 2013 |
A sense of dread, strangeness, or the uncanny emerges through careful attention to often banal, but never boring, detail. ( )
1 vote devdev365 | Jan 8, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Aickmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Shearsmith, ReeceNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation. —Sacheverell Sitwell, "For Want of the Golden City"
For Mary George and Ann Pym who lent me a beautiful apartment without which this book could in no wise have taken form.
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"Cold Hand in Mine" was first published in the UK in 1975 and in the US in 1977. The story "Pages from a Young Girl's Journal" won Aickman the World Fantasy Award in 1975. It was originally published in "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction" in 1973 before appearing in this collection.

"Cold Hand in Mine" stands as one of Aickman's best collections and contains eight stories that show off his powers as a 'strange story' writer to the full, being more ambiguous than standard ghost stories. Throughout the stories the reader is introduced to a variety of characters, from a man who spends the night in a Hospice to a German aristocrat and a woman who sees an image of her own soul. There is also a nod to the conventional vampire story ("Pages from a Young Girl's Journal") but all the stories remain unconventional and inconclusive, which perhaps makes them all the more startling and intriguing.
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