The horror genre has always been slightly self-reverential, particularly in the manner of its titles. Alfred Hitchcock did it best with Tales to Be Read with The Lights On (although one does wonder how else you should read) and Stories That Go Bump In The Night, while Clive Barker’s Books of Blood and Poe’s Tales of the Macabre prove that this sort of thing is not just for British film directors.
So too then does Nonsomnia by Maria Raven. Not insomnia, you’ll note, not a lack of ability to sleep, but rather nonsomnia, a lack of desire to sleep. The question this poses is: does the book live up to the hype of its own title?
In Nonsomnia, Maria Raven takes us on a journey through the twists and turns of her own subconscious, and a delightfully dark trip it turns out to be. The book is an anthology of horror tales, each of which shows a remarkable amount of imagination. The book has tales of resurrection, of hauntings, of visitations and other supernatural trappings, but the thread that joins the stories and drives the narrative of each is human greed.
And All Those Callas tells us the tale of a funeral director who is a little too good at his job, and why. In Arium we discover why you shouldn’t wander around Roman ruins at night, particularly when you’re told not to. The results of a particularly poor job choice are shown in Babies in Hell, while Boris and the Chest tells us what happens when the wrong women are pushed too far. In Bye-Bye Sweetie we learn that sometimes things should stay dead. Maria and the Raven lets us know that, while all good things may come to those who wait, the opposite is also true. The title story, Nonsomnia, concerns itself with why it’s never a good idea to be too controlling, and Picking Up Mushrooms shows that a helping hand may not be what it seems. School is a superbly gothic turn, while The Drugstore is one of those lovely shops of horror fiction where the cure may be worse than the disease. In The Painting of Hans we see Raven beginning to move into longer, more complex writing with a tale not unlike something out of Lovecraft. Wedding shows us that the friend of your friend is not necessarily someone to trust, and the final story, Medicine, continues this theme.
The stories are all generally Eastern European in both location and conception, and some of them feel as if they were straight out of a book of suitably dark fairy tales. They are simply told but, rather than feeling childish or amateur, the author gives them a suitably ethereal quality. Raven’s writing is not easy to follow at times and some of the stories end abruptly, but rather than feel odd this seems entirely in character with the book as a whole, and particularly harkens back to the work of Ambrose Bierce.
A note must be made however, of the editing, or lack of it. Austin Macauley do not seem to have taken this element of the publishing process seriously, and there are any number of simple errors through the book. The order of the stories too must be looked at, as several of them are similar in plot and subject matter, but are adjacent to one another. These should have been separated, to enliven the tone of the anthology as a whole.
At its core, Nonsomnia is a trip down a dark path, one that will frighten but ultimately also entertain.
Reviewed by D C White
Rating out of 10: 7