The Inner Room

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Τitle: The Inner Room

Writer: Robert Aickman

Publishing House: Faber & Faber

Date of Publication: January 3rd 2019 (first published 1968)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’I do not like this shop,’’ said my mother. ‘’It is a shop that has died.’’

Confession time: In my family, there has always been a strange conviction regarding dollhouses. I loved the shiny pink Barbie ones (I had three of those) but my mum was very fond of those huge Victorian-style mansions. Quite hard to find one in Greece during the 90s, she finally found a dark brown dollhouse in an antique shop in the centre of Athens. My dad was with her and absolutely forbade her to think of such a purchase. The reason was his (and my) animosity towards dollhouses and porcelain dolls. We hated them. They gave us the ultimate creeps and I thought that it was a kind of ‘’raised-again’’ graveyard, a photo of the past stuck in time, loaded with every negative connotation imaginable. My grandma bought me three porcelain dolls in the 27 years I had the fortune to have her by my side. None of them ever graced my bedroom. Now, they are forsaken in our basement, waiting to be thrown away because I just can’t stand looking at them. Sorry, not sorry.

When I started reading ghost stories about dolls and dollhouses, I understood that my terror had concrete foundations. Actually, I wouldn’t give a damn anyway. Those things are terrifying. Beautiful they may be, yes. But they are creepy.

P.S. I was a child that thought my toys came alive during the night. I still do. Judge me not.

‘’I hardly dared to breathe as I regarded their woolly heads and noted the colours of their hair: two black, two nondescript, one grey, one a discoloured silver beneath the dust, one blond, and one a dyed-looking red. They wore woollen Victorian clothes, of a period later, I should say, than that when the house was built, and certainly too warm for the present season; in varied colours, all of them dull. Happy people, I felt even then, would not wear these variants of rust, indigo, and greenwood.’’

A young girl chooses a Victorian Gothic dollhouse as her birthday present. From the very first moments, her new acquisition fascinates and unsettles her. Soon, it begins to frighten her. One particular doll seems mad, another is monstrous, a third is on the verge of death. Nightmares begin. Noises and whispers in the darkness of her bedroom. Her brother discovers that there must be a secret room somewhere but it is impossible to discover it. Soon, war comes. The family is torn apart, the shadow of loss and disorientation plagues Lene as the years pass by. One day, she discovers an almost exact replica of her old dollhouse in the middle of a forest. A real, actual house. And she knocks on the door…

This must be the best dollhouse mysterious story I’ve ever read. The toy becomes more than a paranormal prop. It becomes a metaphor for loss and uncertainty, for the secrets that cast a long shadow over every family, for the lost opportunities and the merciless time that does not come back. 

‘’It is true that my house now frightened me, but I felt that I must not be foolish and should strive to take a grown-up view of painted woodwork and nine understaffed dolls. Still, it was bad when I began to hear them in the darkness.’’