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Compulsory Games

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  109 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
Cross Henry James with M.R. James and you might end up with a writer like Robert Aickman, though his self-described “strange stories” remain confoundingly and uniquely his own. Aickman’s 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 behi ...more
Paperback, 341 pages
Published May 8th 2018 by NYRB Classics
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Nancy Oakes
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it

With two exceptions, I loved the stories in this book, which were darkly bizarre, surreal, and in some cases just plain weird. Then again, those qualities are part of the reason I'm drawn to Aickman, who I personally believe was a genius writer, well ahead of his time.

Just recently I told someone who'd never read an Aickman story that while reading this author's work, don't go looking for the weird, the strange, or the horror in his work, because it will
Bill Hsu
May 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
About halfway through, these stories really read like lesser Aickman to me. I don't expect every Aickman piece to be near the level of Ravissante, but most of these have been quite a slog. The exception is "Wood", but one has to suffer through the rambling opening section to get to the rather lovely and ambiguous end.

Update: "The Strangers" certainly has many charming moments, but is again too long. "Letters to the Postman" and "Laura" both have ordinary English dudes chasing femme fatales, a co
Daniel Polansky
Aickman is a fabulous, inventive, peculiar writer, and this collection of his short fiction is so good I’m going to write a paragraph talking about what I don’t like about it. Aickman’s pattern in most of these are, basically –> individual in a highly charged emotional situation + uncanny or surreal situation = mysterious denouement which deliberately fails to clarify things. Sometimes this works marvelously, with the peculiar subtleties of each story’s theme submerged in rhyming narrative ma ...more
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
To call those short stories strange is to undersell them. They are beyond strange, yet they are about the human condition.
There are also murdering cows.
How cool is that?
They might not be really cows.
The cows are in the short story “Hand and Glove”.
There are mushrooms.
In many of the stories, a theme is love and/or marriage. The relationships are never quite what they at first appear to be. But the language and writing are beautiful.
Jed Mayer
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
After eagerly awaiting this collection for months, it was inevitably going to fall short of exaggerated expectations, but many stories here, including the title story, "Hand in Glove," "Marriage," and "Wood," are among Aickman's best, and several others, like "No Time is Passing," "The Coffin House," and "Just a Song at Twilight" are very good, indeed; unfortunately, a few, including "Residents Only" and "The Strangers" are not only somewhat dull, but are also rather unbearably long, so that wha ...more
Jun 08, 2018 added it
Although, as someone aptly put it, this is somewhat of a ‘best of the rest’ anthology of Aickman's strange stories—i.e. those that haven’t been collected in the Faber paperbacks—this is still an excellent collection, highly recommended to existing and new Aickman readers alike.

There is variety here. Some stories are quite accessible by Aickman's standards, such as the straightforward horror of ‘Le Miroir’ and ‘The Coffin House’. Others such as ‘Hand in Glove’ and ‘No Time is Passing’ are Aickma
Tyson Mueller
Jun 26, 2018 rated it liked it
A collection of eerie short stories. Most of them are dream-like in how they juxtapose the quotidian with the unexpected and sometimes unnatural. The last story in the book, "Just a Song at Twilight", encapsulates this well. It's set on some unnamed, indeterminately foreign island, but paints a very precise picture of a young married couple feuding over an uncomfortable drive. They move into their new house only to find that the beach access has been closed off by barbed wire. As they sit down f ...more
Peter Landau
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Robert Aickman calls his stories strange. The short and longer pieces collected in COMPULSORY GAMES were often categorized as horror. I think one story ends with a chill, but most of them just peter out. They’re certainly weird but no more so than when you’re at the DMV and the guy behind the counter has a mole so big and hairy you think it looks like your uncle, then you hear your uncle's voice in your head and you remember what a bore he is, but before you can say anything your license has bee ...more
mimosa maoist
Jul 12, 2018 added it
Shelves: fiction
Loved these, especially the ones that had less gothic material and more straight out buggery.
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was prompted to buy this book after reading a review of it in the New Statesman.  It highlighted an author I’d never heard of whose short fiction was likened to MR James, Arthur Machen and HP Lovecraft – except that he displayed characteristics that set him in a category of his own. After reading this collection, I would add another author that his style reminds me of: Philip K. Dick. If you’d like a quote that probably sums up his style, you need look no further than Neil Gaiman: ‘Reading Rob ...more
May 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Robert Aickman wrote, what he called, "strange stories." This new collection showcases some excellent, eerie tales, but taken as a whole I was kept at an odd distance.

Perhaps my favorite short story in this collection, "Hand in Glove," exemplifies what makes Aickman a cult figure in fiction. The story begins simply enough, with two women going on a picnic after one of the women has broken up with her boyfriend. Yet, within a page of the story, the unfamiliar begins to creep through. From the co
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
At the end, I just kept thinking, "why am I torturing myself in my pleasure reading?" I would have given up entirely had the first few stories not been outstanding. They really led me on.
Judy G
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This man author Robert Aickman from Britain who died in 1980s could write. These are incredible short stories like horror tales. I think he was recommended to read by Stephen king?
Each of these stories and its a collection of his writings is different from start to finish. I think tho he didnt use the word that some of the men are vampire stories. Its not just a mystery its a supernatural tale. Maybe its about 12 stories and there was one very long one and I forget the name that I couldnt follo
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Maybe not the best collection of Aickman stories for the neophyte, but there are some winners here, and it is especially a must for fans because many of these stories are not in cheaper books.

"In order to capture the strange, Aickman turned to dreams. From dreams came a new source of terror, a peculiar blend of anticipation and worry. Instead of treading the familiar paths of the horror story, Aickman made startling swerves into dream logic, where knowledge arrives without speaking, where today
Mat Joiner
Jun 03, 2018 rated it liked it
I've been waiting for this collection for some time - it's such a great idea to collect some of Aickman's tales only otherwise available in the expensive Tartarus edition. Unfortunately, quite a few of the stories here are among his weakest work - perhaps the book might have been better called "Aickman's Spares"? But there is good work here too: "Marriage", "Wood", and "Hand In Glove" are all excellent. One for the diehard Aickmanist than the reader looking for an introduction to RA.
Mat Joiner
Jun 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Collects some of the Aickman tales that have previously just been available from Tartarus Press, but also sadly a lot of his weakest fiction. A better title might have been "Aickman's Spares". "Hand In Glove"", "Marriage", and "Wood" are all excellent; there's possibly a good story somewhere in "Residents Only" if you can ignore the endless scenes of cemetery bureaucracy. One for the completists.
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-on-kindle, weird
There are two broad methods for reading Aickman. The first, and most subscribed, is to read him as something akin to horror. The exact sub-genre or flavor of which debated: a ghost story without a clear understanding of what the ghost is, weird fiction with intimations of absurdism, psychological horror in which most of it is in the protagonist's mind, simply strange fiction with dark undercurrents. The fact that this is the method du jour is testified by numerous witnesses: see the bookcovers o ...more
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
From Victoria Nelson's introduction:

"'In the end,' runs a pronouncement by Sacheverell Sitwell that Aickman used as an epigram to one of his collections, 'it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation.'"

From "The Strangers":

"Very little indeed is fully known about anything, as I suppose the man tried in his own way to make clear; not even, in many cases, whether an individual is fully alive or properly dead. There are misconceptions on all hands. At the Vittoriale, I learned from M. Juli
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was super excited (and surprised) to see a new Aickman reprint collection full of stories I haven't read! Not only that, but it's the super-serious-cover NY Review of Books treatment! Hopefully this is a sign of more to come. At 15 stories, this is the longest Aickman collection I've encountered, and only one story in it is one I've read before, "Marriage," which is also in Painted Devils. The rest are gathered from out of print (read: super expensive) collections I haven't been able to get my ...more
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
"You haven't lived until you've read a Robert Aickman short story!" they said, and so I did, and now I have apparently lived, and in a strangely British way, for a spell each afternoon for a few weeks. It was a mostly pleasant, if foggy and boggy and a little bit wayward, of an experience. I wouldn't be against another visit, if only to see where the tide marks have risen to this time.
Nov 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A Delicious assemblage of Aickman's work, much of it I had never read before in other older collections. I will definitely purchase this as it seems to have some rare gems amongst Aikman's work. When I read these works I can definitely see how there are elements of Aickman in Ligotti and Barron.
Justin Labelle
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it
An intriguing writer that seems to be getting a lot of attention as of late.
Good memorable stories with an otherworldly vibe.
I'm holding back on a full review as I only read half of the stories before I needed to bring it back to the library.
Sep 01, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british, kindle
An uneven collection, with some really good stories, and some mediocre ones.
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My first Aickman. I was very intrigued and look forward to reading more.
Hannah Liddell
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it
A few really good stories. Some I felt could use a trimming, but even those had evocative scenes. After reading the introduction I felt more appreciative and gave the book 3 instead of 2 stars.
Akira Watts
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's become increasingly rare for me to encounter an entirely unknown (to me, at least) author who manages to impress me to the degree that Aickman has with these stories. They're beautifully written, of course, but what gets to me is the sustained mood, one that I can only describe as deeply unsettling.

It's ostensibly horror, or perhaps fantasy, but it's not much like other works in that genre. There is the hallucinatory feel of Kafka or Ishiguro. But what I find remarkable is how subtly the un
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William Gillespie
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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).

Co-founder and longtime president of the Inland Waterways Association, an organization that