Mr Sandman by SJI Holliday
Absinthe Books, hardback £15.00
Review by Lottie Lightfoot
Sophie is tired of her new boyfriend Matthew who she has dated for three months, give or take. He’s boring, pretentious, and frugal. He’s not bad, he’s just not exciting, she laments. Frustrated, Sophie happens upon a Haitian priest on a day trip to the seaside who invites her to wish for what she desires most. She wishes that Matthew would become more desirable, more exciting, more spontaneous. As it usually goes with wishes and pacts made in suspicious circumstances, things begin to go awry and Matthew becomes more and more unlike himself – for the worst. When Matthew starts showing signs of aggression, bringing raw meat from questionable sources home for dinner, and feels cold to touch, Sophie learns the true meaning of “be careful what you wish for”.
Mr Sandman is the archetypal fable of the aforementioned “be careful what you wish for”. The story drives it home often enough, even outright saying it in some parts. The sentiment is laid on a bit too thick to swallow at times.
There’s a twist at the start which genuinely surprised me and then after that everything became predictable. Now stories where you can see the ending aren’t necessarily bad. When reading Flowers for Algernon, for example, about half way you realise exactly how it’s going to end but you push on anyway because the charm is in not the plot itself but how it’s told. Sandman doesn’t quite get away with it, with the story dragging in some parts and moving too quickly in others to truly dive into any meaty storytelling.
Sophie is a dislikable character from the get go. She’s moody, petulant, and a bit of a brat. We don’t always have to like the protagonist, but Sophie lacks the depth and nuance that would otherwise make for a gripping tale. As she continually makes questionable choices, plunging herself further into chaos and horror, it’s hard to be sympathetic or even care. The secondary characters such as Matthew and Sophie’s friend Toby have much more to offer to the narrative. Matthew’s transition from mild mannered corporate shill to the nightmarish, nocturnal being with a hunger for flesh was well written. Toby also gets credit for being the most sensible and proactive character in a horror story I’ve seen in awhile.
Overall, it’s an amusing read but fails to offer much more than that, and it certainly doesn’t stay with you after putting it down.