Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Moth Diaries – review

Author: Rachel Klein

Release date: 2002

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Ernessa is a vampire. She wants me, and only me, to see it. Her hand is guiding mine as I write these words

At an exclusive girls’ boarding school, a sixteen-year-old girl records her most intimate thoughts in a diary. The object of her obsession is her room-mate, Lucy Blake, and Lucy’s friendship with their new and disturbing classmate. Ernessa is a mysterious presence with pale skin and hypnotic eyes. Around her swirl dark secrets and a series of ominous disasters. As fear spreads through the school, fantasy and reality mingle in a waking nightmare of gothic menace, fuelled by the lusts and fears of adolescence.

And at the centre of the diary is the question that haunts all who read it: Is Ernessa really a vampire? Or is the narrator trapped in her own fevered imagination?

The review: This was a recommendation by Halek and, I have to say, it might have been easy to dismiss the novel – based on the blurb – as just another adolescent-school-vampire-drama. However that is doing the novel a grave misservice and I hope this review might place the novel on a few radars.

This is far from a teen novel. It might feature a nameless teen narrator and her friends, it might be set in a school, but it is a dark gothic traipse through a mind perhaps fractured by psychosis. It might be fair to suggest that this is the love child of Carmilla (which is actually cited within the book) and Some of your Blood (or at least a twist thereof).

From the preface, in which the narrator, as an adult, explains why she has re-read and released the journal she had kept during her sixteenth year – at the urging of the psychiatrist she used to see, we get a sense that the contents may not be real. He suggests that she had been "suffering from borderline personality disorder complicated by depression and psychosis". It is true her sixteen-year-old self had still been recovering from the suicide of her father two years before.

Her mother had shipped her off to boarding school but the world she had built around Lucy, her room-mate during that school year, fell apart as Lucy seemed to drift to the new girl Ernessa. The picture of the narrator is not a pretty one, she is clearly jealous and petty with a general superiority complex with regards some of the girls. However Klein builds a complex character and so we do develop a genuine sympathy for her as well.

By the end of the book you are left with possibilities. That she was obsessed and jealous of a friendship with an innocent (at least of vampirism) girl, that perhaps Ernessa – who looks a little like her, is Jewish as she is and has lost her father also – was never real and was a psychotic externalisation or that Ernessa was really a vampire. The book leaves you to make your own mind up. Was, for instance, the school as rife with anti-semetic feeling as the narrator sometimes maintains? Was Lucy predated upon by this new girl or did she simply become ill? Was the death of as student a result of a sinister act or simply a tragic accident? Did the narrator project the idea of vampirism onto her rival due to jealousy and latent lesbian attraction?

The book takes adolescent struggles and amplifies it through the narrator, it takes the bourgeoning sexuality of a teen and questions it through friendship, through the Electra complex and through the vampire. Well worth a read. 7.5 out of 10.


Margaret said...

So glad to have your thoughts on this one! I've had this in my pile of books to read and been itching to get to it, ever since it was recommended to me and I heard they were making a film of it. It seems I am going to have to make this one a priority. Excellent review. As always!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Margaret - do let us know what you think when you have read it.

Anonymous said...

Great review, and I'm glad that you enjoyed it. The Moth Diaries' foreboding tone and unanswered question of whether there actually are supernatural events occurring or if it's just the madness of the narrator remind me a lot of Let's Scare Jessica To Death and Poe's tormented protagonists. But as you note the novel's unsettling ambiguity resides not just in the supernaturalism but also the narrator's uncertain relationships with the people in her life, perhaps including herself.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Halek - thank you for the recommendation.

Let's Scare Jessica is a great similie.

I am now worried, having read the book, that they will lose the ambiguity in the film, especially as the director is Mary Harron, who lost the ambiguity of American Psycho in her screenplay/direction.

Not to sure about the narrator being given a name, either...

however, we will see...

Zahir Blue said...

Color me intrigued! I'll try and get ahold of a copy.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Zahir, as I read it I thought it'd be one for you to read

Margaret said...

At last I have finally finished it and immediately rushed over hear to see what your thoughts are on it, as, to be honest, I am really not sure what to think. Part of me loathed it, and it was almost excruciating to read sometimes. (Looking at a mind that is so obviously fractured and petty and nasty was often quite a grating experience.) Another part of me can't deny the intricate way the story was created and the character was created to be much in keeping (as you said) with the disturbed minds of Poe's works. I honestly don't know what to think about the book in the end. Maybe I will reflect on it a while, but my instant feeling is it never completely delivered on its promise. I almost wish that the author made the truth more able to be discerned. There were many parts of the book that really seemed to be clear indications that she was imagining things that were happening, so much of what she said had no clarity to, really it was that she mixed so much reality with fiction, past with present and confused every moment of the story and that brought everything into question. What was real? What wasn't? I felt at a loss most of the time, disoriented and unbelieving of most of what she said, and frustrated with her constant state of inaction. Hmmm, I can't say it was good or bad really, certainly it was DISTURBING and disrupting. I can't decide if the story was ultimately worth the frustration of reading it, I suppose, but it was definitely different.

I think the Let's Scare Jessica to Death comparison is pretty accurate here.

That all being said, I can't imagine how they could make a good movie out of it. Too much of what happens is in the confusion of her internal thought patterns and on discerning what is real and what isn't. I can't imagine the film will be able to capture that, nor am I sure that is even something worth watching in this case.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Margaret, I can understand the frustrations you felt.

For me, books that are purposefully difficult (character/content wise) are sometimes a great diversion from the more standard format.

For instance, I suggested that Let the Right One in was a disturbing and unpleasant read - but still a good read - and I think the simile is good as neither of the films based on it capture that at all ( as an example the Haken character is softened and becomes comedic (Swedish) or sympathetic (US) but never absolutely revolting (book)) yet the films work.

I have to admit at this point that I list books such as American Psycho and Naked Lunch in my favourite all-time books list and thus unpleasant characters and fractured reality are the norm. This wasn't in the same league, as a piece of literature, as those but worked for me.

I'm sorry that it didn't work for you but suspect the film might go in other directions anyway - and you know we are both going to end up watching the film anyway ;)

Margaret said...

Ha! Yes, of course we are! I'm curious to see what they do with it after reading the book of course, and again, you got my immediate thoughts on the book before I had much time to reflect.

I can certainly see your point on unpleasant characters and fractured realities. I'll admit I have not read too many novels like that, but there is something worthwhile about struggling with that sort of perspective. It certainly can make you more reflective. As I said, I am still unsure of what I think about the book, as to its quality. I feel like it was good, but not quite brilliant, which is what I was hoping it would be.

Can't wait to hear your thoughts on the film!