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Compulsory Games

Compulsory Games

by Robert Aickman, edited and with an introduction by Victoria Nelson

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May 2018 selection for the NYRB Classics Book Club.

Robert Aickman’s self-described “strange stories” are confoundingly and uniquely his own. These superbly written tales terrify not with standard thrills and gore but through a radical overturning of the laws of nature and everyday life. His territory of the strange, of the “void behind the face of order,” is a surreal region that grotesquely mimics the quotidian: Is that river the Thames, or is it even a river? What does it mean when a prospective lover removes one dress, and then another—and then another? Does a herd of cows in a peaceful churchyard contain the souls of jilted women preparing to trample a cruel lover to death? Published for the first time under one cover, the stories in this collection offer an unequaled introduction to a profoundly original modern master of the uncanny. victoria nelson aickman

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681371894
Pages: 368
Publication Date:


Reading Robert Aickman is like watching a magician work, and very often I’m not even sure what the trick was. All I know is that he did it beautifully.
—Neil Gaiman

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.
—Anwen Crawford, The New Yorker

Aickman was a master of the 'strange story’ whose nearly unclassifiable output relies neither on ghosts nor creaking castles. Each story in this collection is a small masterpiece of unease and psychological perplexity….Aickman’s stories present dreamlike, inexplicable realities in prose both strangely sensual and entirely disarming, making this collection a treasure for fans of Poe, Kafka, and Lovecraft.
Publishers Weekly, starred review

Among this year’s most rewarding rediscoveries, for those who treasure the supernatural, there’s Compulsory Games by Robert Aickman, a lifetime’s sinister and uncanny short stories, all ending darkly.
—David Sexton, Evening Standard

A collection of dark, eerie tales from a master of weird fiction. English author Aickman is regarded as a forefather of horror, and this reissue of his fiction by NYRB Classics shows that his reputation is justified….With these 15 stories, four of which are previously unpublished, Aickman creates a disquieting universe in which everything is just off, a wall covered in pictures hung at imperceptibly crooked angles. His command of tone and tension far outstrips that of H.P. Lovecraft and presents a serious challenge to Henry James...As unnerving as it is sinuous; an absolute delight.
Kirkus, starred review

Robert Aickman is one of the twentieth century's finest practitioners of the short story and his name should be placed among the greats—Flannery O'Connor, Irwin Shaw, Raymond Carver. Aickman wrote what he called "strange stories"—the sort of thing that gets the dreaded genre fiction tag attached to you, so it's mainly horror fans who know his work. But make no mistake. The number of short story writers in English who are or were Aickman's equal is a low single digit. You will never forget the first Aickman story you read, nor be satisfied when you've read them all; and so this new collection is a feast for those of us who'd sought out the out-of-print volumes in second-hand stores over the years. I have hoped for years to see Aickman's writing gain the broad readership it deserves. May this new collection unnerve an entire generation of readers the way I got permanently unnerved when I first read "Le Miroir" in Whispers magazine in 1979.
—John Darnielle, author of Wolf in White Van

Of all the authors of uncanny tales, Aickman is the best ever.... His tales literally haunt me; his plots and his turns of phrase run through my head at the most unlikely moments.
—Russell Kirk

This century’s most profound writer of what we call horror stories.
—Peter Straub

Robert Aickman has a gift for depicting the eerie areas of inner space, the churning storms and silent overcasts that engulf the minds of lonely and alienated people. He is a weatherman of the subconscious.
—Fritz Lieber

Unsettling is a key description for Aickman’s writing, not merely in the sense of creating anxiety, but in the sense of undoing what has been settled: his stories unsettle the ideas you bring to them about how fictional reality and consensus reality should fit together. The supernatural is never far from the surreal. He was drawn to ghost stories because they provided him with conventions for unmaking the conventional world, but he was about as much of a traditional ghost story writer as Salvador Dalí was a typical designer of pocket watches.
—Matthew Cheney, Electric Literature

His prose style—supple, urbane, sophisticated, restrained, yet capable of surprisingly powerful emotive effects—never falters from the beginning to the end of his work. There are few writers who are as purely pleasurable to read, regardless of their subject matter or the success or failure of their actual work, as Robert Aickman.
—S. T. Joshi

To interact with Aickman on any meaningful level is to experience a form of quantum entanglement. His ideas entrain the subconscious and mutate it in the fashion that transgressive art must. And yes, I’m implying that the old boy has fucked your mind. Buttoned down or not, it’s just what he liked to do.
—Laid Barron, Weird Fiction Review

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