ROBERT AICKMAN: AN ATTEMPTED BIOGRAPHY
Tartarus Press, 2022
Robert Aickman (1914-1981) is remembered today as the author of fascinating ‘strange stories’, and also as one of the saviours of Britain’s inland waterways. In Aickman’s mind these two apparently different interests were allied; he was an idealist and a Romantic who sought the ‘world elsewhere’ of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, because the modern world was not for him. Aickman believed that an alternative realm could exist in life and the creative arts, and he sought to offer this in his fiction, and to build a Utopia through the restoration of Britain’s inland waterways.
Aickman wrote two volumes of autobiography, The Attempted Rescue and The River Runs Uphill, and both are full of colourful personal details. However, his own versions of events cannot always be relied upon.
In this first full biography of Robert Aickman, R.B. Russell disentangles and examines the myths that have surrounded Aickman and his life. What is revealed is a man of vision and various talents. Determined to realise his ambitions, he often made enemies, but he also had a great capacity for love and friendship. Robert Aickman’s life and attitudes were far from conventional, but his legacy in literature and on the inland waterways of Britain is far-reaching.
"Clear-eyed and dispassionate." Margaret Drabble, Times Literary Supplement
"Nobody knows more about this author of beautifully composed, hallucinatory short fiction than R.B. Russell. Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography — the subtitle echoes Aickman’s memoir, The Attempted Rescue — reveals a man, both charming and rabidly opinionated, who seems to have polarized everyone he met. . . ." Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"Masterful. . . Russell is quite aware that a biography of Aickman can only be attempted because, from moment to moment, what Aickman experienced and what he imagined are hard to separate. It is a virtue of this biography that it shows how, for Aickman, experience was what he imagined." Carl Rollyson, The New York Sun
"Compelling." Roger Luckhurst, The Fortean Times (December 2023. Issue number 439)
"Finessing of Aickman’s reputation will be further enhanced by R.B. Russell’s detailed, intelligent and comprehensive biography, which is surely the last word on the author – it is impossible to imagine more justice being done to his reputation." Barry Forshaw, CrimeTime
"This book is formidably well-written and researched. Russell has interviewed many people who knew Aickman, and their responses have been exceptionally articulate and illuminating. These first-hand impressions of the man are one of the book’s great strengths. A good biography will tell you what it was like to know the subject; a very good one will give you an idea of what it was like to be the subject: Russell’s Robert Aickman attempts both and succeeds." Reggie Oliver, Wormwood 38
"An Attempted Biography" now enjoys a place of honor on my favorites bookshelf -- I am just completely in awe of what Russell has accomplished here." the real stuff
"...insightful, revealing information about a true master of horror." Dejan Ognjanovic, Rue Morgue
"The massive biography is, first of all, a work of love ... but also an effective display of Russell’s capacity as a devoted scholar in the genre of dark fiction." Blackgate.com
"Ray Russell’s highly readable biography of Robert Aickman gives an unparalleled glimpse into a life that contained more psychological complications than is usual even amongst authors of “strange stories”. ... All credit to [Tartarus Press] and to Ray Russell for being unflinchingly objective in the biography of a writer whose writings he and Tartarus Press obviously value immensely." Phantasmagoria magazine #21
"...we should indeed feel comfortable trusting Russell’s account, which is meticulously researched and stems from years of study and careful reflection on Aickman’s ‘'idiosyncratic stories'." Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Locus