Book Review: ‘Woman, Eating’ by Claire Kohda

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Book Title: Woman, Eating
Author: Claire Kohda
Publisher: Virago
Number of Pages: 256
ISBN: 978-0349015637
Date Published: Apr. 06, 2023
Price: INR 454

Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda Book Cover

Book Review

Woman, Eating” is a novel about Lydia, a 23-year-old vampire of mixed Japanese, Malaysian, and British descent, who works as an unpaid intern at a contemporary art gallery by Claire Kohda, a writer and editor based in London. The book is about Lydia’s struggles with her identity, hunger, and loneliness as she tries to fit in the human world and cope with her abusive mother, a vampire. The book explores the themes of alienation, appetite, and empowerment through the lens of a millennial vampire.

The narrative questions some of the traditional “vampire” stereotype paradigms from the perspective of a female vampire with mixed ancestry by reimagining some of them. Lydia’s first-person narration allows us access to her everlasting and gloomy inner world. Her concerns and wants to offer fresh perspectives on various current problems in numerous sectors, such as racial prejudice, sexual harassment at the office, and the morality of eating practices.

The book’s three sections are titled Hunger, Thirst, and Satiety. As Lydia navigates her life in London, she encounters various possibilities and difficulties in each chapter. After meeting him, she develops a crush on Ben, a fellow artist who shares her studio complex. She also runs into Gideon, the gallery’s director, who harasses her sexually and confesses that he knows her father. This well-known Japanese artist passed away before she was born. She also gets enigmatic letters from an unidentified sender who explains the significance of the garden between her studio and Ben’s and how it formerly served as a haven for many people.

Rather than relying on the usual supernatural elements found in traditional vampire stories, this narrative constructs an atmospheric sense of tension through Lydia’s unsettling sensations of being under constant scrutiny by unfamiliar individuals. These encounters frequently lead to instances of racial and sexual violence, as she continually faces objectifying stares from men in public settings. The story is remarkably introspective and somber in its approach to vampirism. It uses it to delve into solitude, human relationships, and the search for personal belonging.

The book is well-written, original, and subversive. Kohda creates a realistic and relatable character in Lydia, who suffers from anxiety, self-loathing, and disordered eating. She also portrays the vampire condition as a metaphor for the experiences of marginalization, discrimination, and violence that many women and people of color face in society. She cleverly uses humor, sarcasm, and pop culture references to lighten the mood and engage the reader.

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The story at places feels slow-paced and repetitive at times. Some readers may find reading about Lydia’s inactivity and isolation in her studio boring or depressing. The book does not have much plot or action, focusing more on Lydia’s emotions and relationships. The book also leaves some questions unanswered or unresolved, such as what happens to Lydia’s mother in the nursing home or who is the mysterious letter writer. This book reminded me of Vampire by Anne Rice, which also explores how vampires cope with their hunger, identity, and place in the world in different ways.

The book is written in a simple and accessible language that appeals to adults and young adults. “Woman, Eating” is a captivating and provocative novel that challenges the stereotypes and conventions of vampire fiction.

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