Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Inner Room by Robert Aickman

Sometimes you read a story when you're a child, and it sticks at the back of your mind, milling around. In my case, at strange moments a dolls' house would pop into my head. All I could remember was that there was a boy who measured it and found it didn't quite fit into its dimensions; and also a far more creepy image, that of a doll who spent all her time recording what went on. I could never find the story again. I recently had quite a terrifying nightmare about a dolls' house, which was full of strange, tiny inhabitants who flew at me and stuck me with pins: a couple of days later (having written down the dream as it was so striking), I went with a friend to an exhibition and saw the very same dolls' house... There's also a very effective story in A S Byatt's The Children's Book, in which a girl finds some fairies and imprisons them in a dolls' house; alas for the girl, a giant comes along and scoops her up, dolls' house and all.

A friend, purely by chance (well, off the back of my scary books list) sent me a copy of a book: The Inner Room by Robert Aickman. Even before I began to read it, I knew it was that story. The familiar chill spread along my spine; before I knew it I was twelve again, and in the fascinating grip of a story whose implications have resonated with me all my life. In it, a girl buys a dolls' house from a dingy shop (a classic ghost story trope). She brings it to her house, and then abandons it; meanwhile she has terrifying dreams about the inhabitants. Then, much, much later, it comes back to haunt her, in a shockingly real manner. It is splendidly well-written and atmospheric, and has exactly the right sort of ambiguous end that all the best ghost stories have.

Go forth and acquire it: it is published by Tartarus Press. Click Inner Room to buy it from Amazon.

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