Book review: In Claire Kohda's Woman, Eating, a vampire has an existential crisis

Woman, Eating: A Literary Vampire Novel by Claire Kohda. PHOTOS: HARPERVIA, COURTESY OF CLAIRE KOHDA

Woman, Eating

By Claire Kohda
Fiction/Virago Press/Paperback/256 pages/ $32.95/ Buy here / Borrow here
4 out of 5

On the surface, Lydia is like any other recent graduate.

The young artist in London is eager to be independent yet unsure about her place in the world. Except Lydia's existential crisis is amplified - she is a vampire who cannot age or die.

Turned by her vampire mother as a young baby, Lydia has pretended to be a human all her life. She has lived isolated by her mother as they consume pig's blood in their home.

Blood is the only thing Lydia's body allows her to digest even as she craves sushi, ramen, cheese, milk and Korean rice cakes. She is of Asian parentage - her mother is Malaysian, while her late father was Japanese.

English writer and musician Claire Kohda's debut novel is an original twist on the vampire trope. Instead of spending pages on the lore and workings of a world where vampires exist, she uses affecting prose to keep a laser focus on Lydia's inner life.

Kohda ends up weaving an unsettling yet moving universal tale that contemplates what it means to be a young woman, a minority and to be alive.

Growing up with a mother who instilled in her the belief that they were demons undeserving of joy, Lydia denies herself often - starving, alienating and harming herself.

While aware that she has inherited her mother's self-loathing, Lydia cannot help but be overcome by guilt as she puts her mother in a care home in a bid to sever ties.

In private, she seeks a sense of belonging by watching YouTube videos of people preparing and eating Asian food - something she will never be able to enjoy.

This desire to satiate her hunger culminates in the story's climax, which ties in with a quote Kohda prefaced her novel with: "All life, to sustain itself, must devour life."

Indeed, the human experience is one of consumption.

Some feed off the fruit of trees, the skin, meat and bones of animals, while others feed off love, fears, aspirations, desires and the broken dreams of others.

And, as depicted in the book, even vampires are not immune to racism or misogyny.

If you like this, read: Fledgling by Octavia Butler (Warner Books, 2007, $29.31, buy here, borrow here). A girl wakes up with little memory of who she is until her inhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling realisation: She is a 53-year-old genetically modified vampire.

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