Claire Kohda’s debut novel “Woman Eating” was released on April 12 and follows Lydia, a 23-year-old recent art school graduate, who has a secret: she is an insatiable vampire on the hunt for a meal that will finally satisfy her cravings.
Lydia’s vampire mother is sent to live in a nursing home after being diagnosed with dementia. Her Japanese father—the half of Lydia she considers to be human—died before she was born. Alone in London for the first time, Lydia rents a studio space among other artists with whom she dreams of living fully human.
From the time her mother turned her at birth, Lydia has been taught that she is a half-demon who deserves nothing more than pig’s blood to drink and to live and die alone. However, after a dinner party with the other artists at her studio, Lydia wants nothing more than to live amongst them and eat what they eat: ramen, sashimi, stuffed onigiri and stir-fries, all food her dad ate.
Desperate to be like them, Lydia wonders if she can starve her vampire side to death, a choice that comes at a cost. In order to fully exist in society, Lydia is forced to question what she actually is—and what it is she truly craves.
“Woman Eating” is a new kind of vampire novel in which vampires are not all brooding, sparkling teenagers (I am looking at you, “Twilight”) but are complex creatures. Here, vampirism functions as a metaphor for mixed ethnic heritage and alienation. Lydia exists on the outside: she is a vampire, she knows little about her parents’ background, and thus is disconnected from her culture and she is an artist whose work is not the ‘stereotypical’ Japanese delicate and pretty art.
Despite feeling like a novel I have already read—a millennial woman who is not feeling great about life—this story was engaging because of Kohda’s take on the vampire trope. I loved being immersed in Lydia's mind and reading about her struggles with her identity and how this was heightened by her vampirism. For example, her not being able to eat the food her dad loved due to her vampire side was much more impactful because food is an important aspect of many cultures.
There were side characters who didn’t really serve a purpose, and if they did, it was mostly meaningless by the end. I do wish they were either not included at all, or explored more in-depth—I wanted more time devoted to the mother because of her intriguing background. The exploration of mixed ethnic heritage, cultural identity, sexual assault, art and alienation, however, felt unique and carefully crafted.
“Woman Eating” by Claire Kohda gives life back to the vampire trope. I recommend this novel and give it 4 out of 5 stars.