Title: What Do Nightmares Dream Of
Author: Antonija Mežnarić
Genre: Horror Novella
Number of Pages: 122
I thoroughly enjoyed this little horror novella. It was different from everything I’ve read before and while it was about a haunting, it subverted expectations of the typical haunting story. It’s also the first book I’ve read set in Romania. The story follows Sanja, an acerbic lesbian schoolteacher living in a crappy apartment. She was physically and psychologically abused by her grandmother after her dad’s suicide, and after the loss of her father her mom died in a freak accident, leaving her completely alone.
Unsurprisingly, Sanja is a heavy drinker and has quite a bit of emotional trauma. Her cousin, Shimun, is a priest and even though they spend time together she’s fallen out with the church for a long time. He’s the only person in her family who seems supportive of her at all, even though his tendency to make excuses for her grandmother drive her (understandably) crazy. Then Sanja starts being terrorized by a female folkloric demon called a Mora, who worsens her nightmares and starts to give her sleep paralysis-like episodes.
She knows her experiences have a supernatural component to them but she’s determined to stand her ground. Shimun tells her to her leave the apartment, but she insists it’s haunting HER, not the apartment. She gradually begins to feel empathy for the Mora as she grows to understand it’s terrible past. She also has a love interest, Marija, who works at the same school as she does.
Being a gay disaster, though, she doesn’t know how to respond to Marija’s attention. How can you open your mind to new possibilities when your life is falling apart and you’re being harassed by a literal demon? One of the things I loved most about this book was how salty Sanja was (like when she has internal monologues about her students or intrusive female cousin and bratty nephew.) She’s so stubborn about the Mora and ready to fight it at every turn.
She’s tougher than most and even when the Mora’s behavior is terrifying, she tries not to be intimated by it. This leads to some humor when she’s trying to be casual and the Mora is going totally the fuck off, attacking her and causing terrifying hallucinations. I admired that toughness. Me, I would have moved out months ago and just hoped Shimun was right about it just being the apartment that was haunted.
There’s also very little question of whether it exists. This means it skips most of the scenes where Sanja has to gradually be convinced if the demon is real. She accepts that reality and is continually pissed off about it. The only issue I had about this book was the ending, which felt way too abrupt. It felt like the author needed to wrap things up for the character but failed to do in a particularly authentic way.
There were also some spelling and grammar errors that were very noticeable, but not to the point of being really distracting or hard to read. I think the editor could have used to go over it a few more times. Mostly, though, it’s an engaging story that combines supernatural horror and real-life trauma and is certainly worth a few dollars on Kindle.
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