Robert Aickman

Go Back at Once

Introduction by Brian Evenson

Completed by Robert Aickman in 1975, and only recently discovered in his papers (by And Other Stories’ author and Aickman biographer RB Russell), Go Back at Once is a delicious, delirious comic fantasia about the joys and terrors of a life devoted to resisting conformity. It tells the story of Cressida Hazeborough and her friend Vivien, two mordantly intelligent young women fresh out of school, neglected by their parents, and trying to find their ways in a grey London not long after the end of the Great War. The pair have little patience for the company of the marriageable men they are meant to endure, nor for any other bore’s company, yet neither do they possess the means to live as they might wish: together, and apart from the demands of modern society. What’s a girl to do?

But then remarkable news arrives: a great Italian poet, playwright, athlete and soldier named Virgilio Vittore has conquered the tiny country of Trino, on the Adriatic Sea, and now seeks to govern it ‘according to the laws of music’. Could this new utopia be a refuge for Cressida and Vivien, and indeed all who seek a life less ordinary? Or should the women, having arrived in this land of art and anarchy, take to heart the advice of the novel’s title?

Escapist yet clear-eyed, old-fashioned yet queer, Go Back at Once reveals Robert Aickman as a master not only of the ‘strange story’, but a satirist and wit deserving of a place alongside the mischievous and venomous greats of the early twentieth-century British novel: Ronald Firbank, Ivy Compton-Burnett and Evelyn Waugh – not to mention Aickman’s contemporaries Muriel Spark and Penelope Fitzgerald.


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More Info

Fifty Forgotten Books author R.B. Russell talks about collecting Robert Aickman on his YouTube channel.

Robert Aickman – Master of the ‘strange story’: a Zoom talk by R. B. Russell and Rosalie Parker is available to watch on demand on The Last Tuesday Society’s website.

You can read a piece by Margaret Drabble in the TLS on Robert Aickman’s life and legacy, here.

Print status: Available
Original language: English
Format: B-format paperback
Publication date: 11 January 2022
ISBN: 9781913505202
Ebook ISBN: 9781913505219
Availability: World English
Number of pages: 400


Andrew Michael Hurley
The Telegraph

‘To try and make sense of [Go Back at Once’s] assortment of images and metaphors is like trying to interpret a feverish dream . . . the pleasure comes not from retaining a firm grasp on meaning, but in yielding to “the greater power of imagination than reality”, something Cressida comes to appreciate herself.’

Catriona Ward
The Times

‘Aickman's hitherto unpublished second novel . . . is an oddity, a puzzlebox of queerness and a utopian fantasia . . . The prose vibrates with energy.’

Peter Straub

‘[The] most profound writer of what we call horror stories.’

Ian McCord, Avid Bookshop

‘With brilliant dialogue and oblivious schlepping, à la Stoppard’s Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, Aickman’s two hilarious ladies-in-waiting wander through the horrors of war, men of all disastrousies, and political upheaval unfazed.’


‘For fans of cutting remarks, philosophy, and scandalous divorcées.’

Kirkus Reviews

‘[T]his novel offers readers…a witty, sophisticated work of 20th-century British fiction.’  

Publishers Weekly

‘Mesmerizing. This unconventional story gets by on the author’s sly wit.’

The Complete Review

‘There's a nice light touch to the all skips along nicely and if it all isn't quite clear, the sheer oddity of the place and events is just as baffling to its two protagonists...It makes for a quite charming novel of two young innocents learning about life.’

Neil Gaiman

‘Reading Robert Aickman is like watching a magician work, and very often I’m not even sure what the trick was. All I know is that he did it beautifully.’

Anwen Crawford
The New Yorker

‘In Aickman’s fiction, peculiarity is intertwined with a drab twentieth-century realism that is very English and sometimes dryly funny. Think Philip Larkin, or Barbara Pym, gone eldritch.’

John Darnielle, author of Wolf in White Van

‘His name should be placed among the greats—Flannery O’Connor, Irwin Shaw, Raymond Carver . . . You will never forget the first Aickman story you read, nor be satisfied when you’ve read them all.’

Matthew Cheney
Electric Literature

‘Unsettling is a key description for Aickman’s writing, not merely in the sense of creating anxiety, but in the sense of undoing what has been settled: his stories unsettle the ideas you bring to them about how fictional reality and consensus reality should fit together . . . He was drawn to ghost stories because they provided him with conventions for unmaking the conventional world, but he was about as much of a traditional ghost story writer as Salvador Dalí was a typical designer of pocket watches.’