Book Review: Woman Eating, Claire Kohda

Lydia is hungry.

She’s always wanted to try sashimi, ramen, onigiri with sour plum stuffed inside – the food her Japanese father liked to eat. And then there is bubble tea and the vegetables grown by the other young artists at the London studio space she is secretly squatting in. But Lydia can’t eat any of this. The only thing she can digest is blood, and it turns out that sourcing fresh pigs’ blood in London – where she is living away from her vampire mother for the first time – is much more difficult than she’d anticipated.

Then there are the humans: the people at the gallery she interns at, the strange men who follow her after dark, and Ben, a goofy-grinned artist she is developing feelings for. Lydia knows that they are her natural prey, but she can’t bring herself to feed on them.

If Lydia is to find a way to exist in the world, she must reconcile the conflicts within her – between her demon and human sides, her mixed ethnic heritage, and her relationship with food, and, in turn, humans.

Before any of this, however, she must eat.


A fresh and compelling vampire narrative with an incredibly compelling vampire protagonist: this is a novel about people caught between cultures, caught between self-loathing and self-respect; caught between a domineering mother and her own life.

What I Liked

  • The protagonist, Lydia: strong and forging an independent life striking out from her mother;
  • The sensual language in Lydia’s craving for food;
  • The food as a bridge and gateway into a culture.

What Could Have Been Different

  • The supporting characters to have been given as much detail and depth as Lydia

Hallowe’en seems an apt time for a vampire novel, doesn’t it?

I mean I was brought up with the classics of Dracula and Carmilla and The Vampyre – you know, the classics – and raised with Buffy, enjoyed Anne Rice and The Historian, and the deliciously creepy Let the Right One In – heck, I’ve even read Twilight. The vampire is such a familiar character now, even my daughter is comfortable with them, from Hotel Transylvania. So what is remarkable is that Kohda was able to bring something so fresh to this trope.

What she gives us is the voice of the vampire, the mind of the vampire in first person – and I am not sure I have ever read a vampire book written from the vampire’s point of view… surely there must be some examples… – and we discover a person. A rounded and complex person, flawed certainly but nowhere near the monster that her mother claims she is.

The story is relatively straightforward: having deposited her mother in a nursing home, Lydia moves into a shared artist’s and interns at an art gallery. She meets a fellow artist Ben at the studio to whom she is drawn; and in a well judged piece of parallelism, she also meets Gideon, the gallery’s predatory director who repulses her. Whilst trying to blend in with Ben, surviving on dried blood, black pudding and ducks from the river, Lydia ruminates on her relationship with her mother, her history, her heritage from her Japanese absent father, her being turned as a baby and negotiates the gallery’s increasingly absurd and menial roles.

And what happens is that vampirism – already so laden with symbolism – acquires another level of it. The vampire as metaphor for dual heritage

I’m not really sure what I am any more though – whether I’m a monster or whether I’m just a woman, or both.

and the horrific self-loathing that Lydia inherits from her mother. I mean, it is appalling the way she as a woman is demonised

God wouldn’t want to help a demon survive, and that’s what we are, Lyds. We are unnatural, disgusting and ugly. Look at us; we are just sin.

The novel asks Lydia not to choose but to reconcile those two parts of her nature, the human and the demon, to negotiate them and perhaps to find that the barriers between are less firm and more permeable than she had thought.

And Kohda’s language throughout in incredible! Whether it is the litany of Japanese foods that Lydia watches on You Tube – bereft of that culture because of her inability to partake of that cuisine – or the violence of her reaction when drinking milk, or the sensuousness of her tasting Ben’s blood on a towel:

I feel myself leaning forward; my eyes are closed. Everything is a very deep, dark red. Then I feel hot skin on my lips. My mouth opens. My tongue feels its way. Ben’s skin is sweet. I feel immensely powerful. I feel like my whole self is contained in just my teeth; they’re ready to bite.

Yes the novel does embrace violence as Lydia learns to accept the vampire side of herself – as well as get her revenge on the predatory Gideon at the gallery but it never revels in the violence or the gore; it never tries to shock for the sake of shocking.

For me personally, I’d have liked some of the secondary characters to be fleshed out just a little more – Ben and Gideon in particular – and the sexual predator falling foul of the vampire predator that he sought to abuse was a little cliched perhaps. But this was an exquisitely balanced piece of writing and an incredible debut, and I hope to see more from Kohda in the future.

Overall

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Characters:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Plot / Pace:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Worldbuilding:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Structure:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Language:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Page Count:

256 pages

Publisher:

Virago

Date:

24th March 2022

Links:

Amazon, Goodreads

1 thought on “Book Review: Woman Eating, Claire Kohda”

Leave a Reply to WendyW Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.