Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Moth Diaries - Rachel Klein

This novel, originally published in 2002, has been recently reissued on foot of the resurgence of interest in vampires and an expected movie release later this year. But is this a Vampire novel? Certainly if you are expecting anything like the 'Twilight' books of Stephanie Meyer then you will be disappointed but what you get instead is a claustrophobic, intense look at female adolescence, obsession and possible psychosis.

The unnamed narrator has been asked by her former therapist to consider the publication of the diary she wrote during her junior year in a girls boarding school. From the preface to the diary, written by the diarist 30 years later, we are told right at the beginning that she was diagnosed with "borderline personality disorder complicated by depression and psychosis" we have been directed therefore to regard everything that she says with suspicion, to analyse her words because what she says can not possibly be true - can it?

At the beginning of our narrator's diary she warns us of the intensity of emotion generated by the boarders:

"She knows what it's like to be shut up in a place like this, where all your emotions are focused on the girls around you, where you dream of a boyfriend but only feel comfortable with your arm around another girl's waist."

In this case the narrator's emotional focus is on her roommate Lucy a blond WASP to the narrator's dark Jew, and across the corridor is Ernessa Bloch, another dark haired Jewish girl. When Lucy becomes more and more friendly with Ernessa, a girl who never seems to eat or sleep in her bed, our narrator becomes suspicious of Ernessa and her motives. As girls begin to die and Lucy becomes ill and listless the diarist is convinced that Ernessa is responsible:

"She goes where she pleases. She appears unhoped for, uncalled for. She moves through walls and doors and windows. Her thoughts move through minds. She enters dreams. She vanishes and is still there. She knows the future and see through flesh. She is not afraid of anything."

The narrator tries to tell the other boarders and the school authorities of her suspicions but her warnings are dismissed as the product of her obsession with Lucy and paranoia at Lucy's growing friendship with Ernessa but Lucy is fading away and only seems to recover from a diagnosed blood disorder when away from the school and therefore away from Ernessa.

Following a final death, the narrator decides that she must take drastic action to destroy the vampire that is feeding off the girls, she discovers Ernessa's travelling trunk and from her description of it's contents there is clear evidence of Ernessa's true nature however all of this is destroyed by the narrator's final actions. The only item that survived those final few days is a razor blade given to the narrator, so she says, by Ernessa and which is used by her doctor to later form part of her "clinical picture". The narrator has destroyed any evidence that her accusations may be true.

Is Ernessa a Vampire? Does the narrator suffer from a personality disorder? This is what is so intriguing about this novel, there is no right answer to these questions and while we work our way through the school year we are treated to an intelligent and dark version of female adolescence filled with questions about adulthood - which attracts and repels the girls.

After we close the diary the narrators also adds an "Afterword", also written 30 years later. Does it paint a picture of hope? I have my doubts, she has given up on the girl who was the diarist despite that person being "excruciatingly alive, as if she had been born without a skin" but she has survived. Perhaps this is Klein's final message, that adolescence, however dark and intense, will come to an end and there is life on the other side, however dull and grey it may seem in comparison.

Although tagged for teens this is a book that adults will find satisfyingly Gothic, it is a welcome thought provoking, intelligent read, a million miles away from the safe domesticated vampires currently enjoying popularity.


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