The Ornamental Waters


COMPULSORY GAMES by Robert Aickman

“‘But books take you away.’”

Here it is the buzzing Moth aeroplane that the book creates, not to take you away, but to stalk you as close to the loose slates of your roof as possible. And it sure did this to me many years ago I now recall, but I must have blocked it out or — perhaps more meaningfully in the context — airbrushed it till I foolhardily read it again just now, and without warning, it’s back there but this time under the roof of my head, seeking to airbrush equivalently its version of my own “implicit ghost”, I feel.


The satisfyingly complex story of the Trenwiths, Colin and Grace, husband and wife, living near Cromwell Rd and their endurance of the ‘boring’ Eileen McGrath, a widow and top civil servant with her own ‘lodestar’, the one who lives in oblique neighbourly contiguity with them, along with her invisible tenants — a story of aloneness and social differences and false fronts, and richly if darkly tantalising interactions between them. About the English and their use of laughter. Then there is Eileen’s one  attempt to co-opt Colin when Grace is abroad in India to visit a dying mother. But when Grace returns it is her instead who is co-opted by Eileen into an aviation project, resulting in the hunting of Colin by both or one of them — or by neither of them, as the small aeroplane is often seen flying without a pilot. It even hugs Colin’s trail on holiday by train to visit a country house, one whose “ornamental waters were full of sewage.” (My italics.)

Reading this story one tempts such airbrushing or subsuming upon oneself in a similar way, and so I am trying to get it off my chest again, and leaving it for you to deal with  by means of this review. Not a game, I assure you, but something definitely compulsory! Not sure whether it is a gender thing, whether any reader is more or less susceptible to reading it? But I sense it is a masochistic man who wrote it for married  men to read.  Unless you know different?

Probably the most important passage that Aickman ever wrote:

“A year ago, all the words that matter had suddenly changed their meanings and changed them for ever. Nor was this process of change going to cease. Colin felt that he would never even die. Rather was he to be endlessly dragged out of himself; moulded, melted, and miniaturized: while all the time, his real self remained entirely conscious but entirely powerless, like a discarded chrysalis still with feeling. A manikin was materializing while the man watched, having first been paralysed.”

The heads above the country house wall watching him at the end are probably all you readers. Me included, if I could but know. Or have all the words changed meaning yet again?

All my reviews of Aickman: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/

2 thoughts on “The Ornamental Waters

  1. Pingback: FEET FOREMOST by L.P. Hartley | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

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