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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Go Back at Once

Robert Aickman

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Go Back at Once

Title: Go Back at Once
Author: Robert Aickman
Genre: Novel
Written: (1975)
Length: 392 pages
Availability: Go Back at Once - US
Go Back at Once - UK
Go Back at Once - Canada
directly from: And Other Stories
  • Though completed in 1975, Go Back at Once was first published in 2020
  • The And Other Stories edition (2022) has an Introduction by Brian Evenson
  • The Tartarus Press edition (2020) has an Introduction by R.B. Russell

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a fun, wild ride; lovely writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 5/11/2021 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "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." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Go Back at Once is set not long after the First World War -- and reads much like an entertainment from those times. It follows the lives of young things Cressida Hazeborough and Vivien Poins, best of friends at their boarding school.
       And while:

     Both Cressida and Vivien were perfectly clever enough to go on to a university and, having arrived there, to excel, but there was no question of that for either of them.
       Instead, the young women go to London, moving in with Vivien's Aunt Agnes, Lady Luce, and getting jobs -- Vivien as the receptionist to a psychoanalyst, Dr Blattner, and Cressida helping out in flower shop, named after the woman who runs it, Perdita. Neither really has any direction yet, floating rather freely along for the time-being (though Vivien is working on a novel). Eventually, Clarissa is introduced to Perdita's circle, but she's not a good fit, while Vivien finds that Dr Blattner is beginning to see himself as too dependent on her; Vivien realizes, as she tells her friend: "We've both got to get away soon. I keep reminding you".
       Opportunity comes in the form of the near-legendary figure of Virgilio Vittore. Early on, Vivien had already observed to Cressida:
When it comes to the opposite sex, I am interested only in a Man, and neither you nor I have ever met one.
       Vittore, however, may very well be that ideal:
     'Vivien, who is Virgilio Vittore ?'
     'He is a man,' replied Vivien with emphasis. 'At least I think so.'
       Vivien only knows him by reputation, from the magazine articles she has read and the like -- but what a reputation it is:
     Vittore is a great poet, and a great playwright, and a great athlete, and a great soldier, and a great leader, and a great aviator, and a great aviator, and a great lover. That most of all. He is always saying that the bays of the poet and the laurels of the victor rust before the single pure white rose of love.
       As to his looks:
'Apparently he looks terrible.'
     'Vivien !'
     'But he's irresistible, all the same.'
     'How can he be ?'
     'I don't know, Cressy. He just is. It's not the kind of thing we learnt much about.'
       It turns out Aunt Agnes knew him, back in the day. And, conveniently, he invites her to come to his side again -- which she does, with the two girls in eager tow.
       Vittore has carved out a little piece of Italy on the Adriatic coast and established his own little would-be independent state there, Trino. Of course, they go there, to join in this personal utopia Vittore seems to be establishing there. And, of course, utopias -- and men whose legends precede them -- don't always quite turn out to live up to what one imagines them to be. Indeed, their stay there turns out to be a very brief one -- as things come to a rather sensational head in Trino rather soon after their arrival.
       Among the running jokes while they're there is Cressida's repeated doubts about whether there actually even is a Vittore -- despite his so much larger than life image and reputation: "Does Vittore exist ?" she has to wonder. Still, even if he remains an elusive figure, his lands can't help but impress: "Trino might, indeed, have been designed by Mr Arthur Rackham at his best", and there certainly is a great deal of impressive activity going on there.
       Vivien and Cressida go along with things as best they can, but it remains a mystifying place. Still, as Cressida points out to one of the other young women there:
     'It's not boring here, Wendy,' Cressida remonstrated. 'It's sometimes comic and sometimes horrid. Not boring for a minute.'
       So also Aickman's novel. There's a nice light touch to the writing, with a great deal of fluff and froth to the dialogue-heavy narrative; it 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 (with Cressida ultimately the dominant one). At one point Cressida notes that: "Nothing here is ever meant literally" -- and indeed, part of the appeal of the narrative is in the contrast of how it presents the often absurd and strange in such a light and simple manner.
       For the young women, it is certainly an experience -- quite the wild ride but, as such: "It had been a lightning course in finding oneself". It makes for a quite charming novel of two young innocents learning about life -- even as Trino and what happens there is a truly extreme example of life and experience.
       Aickman captures the time very well, with Go Back at Once feeling very much like a novel not just set in the 1920s but pitch-perfectly of that time -- not least in passages such as:
     'Perfect solitude or perfect sympathy,' whispered Vivien.
     'Who said that ?'
     'André Maurois.'
     Of curse they had both read Ariel, though with different results. Everyone had read Ariel.
     Cressida and Vivien whispered nothing more, and it was hard to estimate how long they stayed.
       Vittore is everything but a physical presence here, a sort of mini-Mussolini (Mussolini, after all, also styled himself a creative writer) with even grander visions and ambitions, and this contrast between his so much larger than life persona, omnipresent in Trino, and his so very limited actual presence works well.
       Meanwhile, there are more than enough other quirky characters all around, not least Vittore's apparent sister, or the professor who insists: "'I can do anything,' screamed the Professor, 'just anything. I'm amazing.'" While the colorful cast of secondary figures sometimes fades far from the story proper, they serve their various purposes -- and often allow Aickman some neat little flights of prose, as when psychoanalyst Dr Blattner explains himself to Cressida (for whom Vivien arranged a session):
I am not a quack purveying instant cures. I do not offer cures at all. There are no cures. I explore. I penetrate. Often it is necessary to wander with a patient, to mountaineer with a patient, to starve with a patient, nearly to drown or suffocate with a patient, to wrestle in depth with a patient. My patients are antagonists, Cressida, and I offer nothing whatever that does not have to be worked for, waited for, and watched for with tender anxiety, like a mother watching over a very sick child, who will almost certainly die.
       (Unsurprisingly, Cressida only goes in for the one session.)
       It's all very agreeably presented oddness, the two young women not truly naïfs but still youthfully unworldly -- but sensible enough (in also a very English way), while finding themselves in a near-absurdist world.
       Good fun, and an enjoyable read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 December 2021

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Go Back at Once: Reviews: Robert Aickman: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Robert Aickman lived 1914 to 1981.

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© 2021 the complete review

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