cover image Go Back at Once

Go Back at Once

Robert Aickman. And Other Stories, $17.95 trade paper (372p) ISBN 978-1-913505-2

Two young British women fresh from secondary school become embroiled in a bizarre political experiment in this outré work from Aickman (Compulsory Games) written in 1975, six years before his death, and previously unpublished. Cressida Hazeborough and Vivien Poins graduate in the aftermath of WWI. Feeling socially isolated, they leap at the opportunity to move with Vivien’s aunt Agnes to the Italian island of Trino, where the charismatic Virgilio Vittore has declared independence and governs “according to the laws of music.” The three women arrive to find frigid weather quite different from what they’d imagined, and Cressida accepts work in the theater that produces Vittore’s plays. The general disorder, nightly war games with leftover guns, and claims that Vittore is too busy to publicly appear foster in Cressida suspicions about what is really happening. True believers, meanwhile, brush aside questions and boast about Vittore’s unbelievable accomplishments (he “speaks twelve languages equally well” and “once swam the Merganser Straits four times running on a single evening”). When a more serious threat appears, chaos breaks loose. There are many unexplained surreal images, like a man throwing a breastfeeding woman through a window, and the friends exchange inside jokes that sometimes remain obscure, but the overall effect is mesmerizing. This unconventional story gets by on the author’s sly wit. (Jan.)