The co-editor of this collection, Ra Page, recalls a recurring dream in which he finds himself back at his childhood home, but rather than finding the reassuring comfort of the familiar, nothing is quite what it used to be, with mortar dropping from cracks in the thinning walls. As Page says in his elegant introduction, unheimliche, meaning "unhomely", is the German word Freud used for the uncanny, and the homestead remains central to the concept: the uncanny "lies beneath the house, under that heavy architecture of habit and belief". In his 1919 essay on the subject, Freud listed eight uncanny tropes, irrational causes of fear deployed in literature, including inanimate objects being mistaken as animate (such as dolls and severed limbs), and the confusion between reality and imagination.
The 21st century offers new ways of interpreting the uncanny, with virtual worlds such as Second Life and Facebook offering opportunities to duplicate ourselves and cause identity confusion. In this collection of stories, 14 writers offer original fictional interpretations of what the uncanny might mean in our strange epoch. The authors rise to the challenge, from the moving opening story, "Double Room" by Ramsey Campbell, in which a grieving hotel guest is convinced that he is being echoed by someone in an adjacent room, to A S Byatt's vivid "Dolls' Eyes" in which a school teacher experiences intense love and loss for the first time, and Hanif Kureishi's eerie tale of a narrator bumping into his dead father in a pub.
The tales are delightful and disturbing, shedding insight into that unsettling sense of estrangement from the world – and from our own selves – that is so much part of the human experience.