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PAINTED DEVILS by Robert Aickman



Pub Date: March 1st, 1979
Publisher: Scribners

Nine more ""strange stories"" from the very British Mr. Aickman--who this time out often seems to be apologetic, even embarrassed, when his engaging and elegantly moody tales slip again and again into supernatural clich‚s. An uneasy honeymoon couple in a rundown resort hotel besieged by the clanging of nearby bells: marvelous situation. . . till the bells wake the local dead for a The-Zombies-Walk finale. A Rosemary's Baby is revealed, ghosts appear in an abandoned house or a deserted railway station or the Houses of Parliament--these occult punchlines, though delivered with far more subtlety than is usual in the genre, are the weakest elements in otherwise beguiling, suggestive stories. Aickman does better when the strangeness is less clearly supernatural, more blended with hallucinations and psychological insecurities: a Sunday painter in search of a change of scene is led by a mysterious seductress to her island manor, where the bucolic view from his window constantly changes; an innocent bystander is sucked into the nightmare world of a recently deceased, unappreciated symbolist painter. And best of all is ""Marriage,"" a story that never leaves its down-to-earth groundings as its quiet, ordinary hero slides into a surreal arrangement with two women, best friends Helen and Ellen, who complement each other in providing him with all the conjugal services. But even this graceful parable has a twist tacked on--a Freudian one. Aickman is too fine a stylist, too natural a storyteller to be relying on gimmicky codas, supernatural or otherwise; fans of ghostly doings may appreciate the good writing here, but fans of good writing will probably want to wait fill Aickman settles into stories worthy of his talent.