DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Moth Diaries: A Novel
By Rachel Klein
Counterpoint/ 256 pages/ $24
ISBN: 1582432058

Cover Like The Lake of Dead Languages, Rachel Klein's debut novel centers on a private girls school, the coming-of-age of its students, the nature of friendship, obsession, and death. Both feature a blond girl named Lucy who is the best friend of the first-person narrator. Both rely on revelatory journals kept by those narrators. The Moth Diaries takes place at the end of the 60s, Lake is set in the mid-70s. But where Lake is an entertaining Gothic, Diaries is almost self-consciously "deep." Through the day-by-day first-person entries, the reader is privy to the innermost thoughts of the 16-year-old diarist as she struggles through an adolescence complicated by psychosis and depression. The nameless narrator's father was a poet who committed suicide. She's been sent to a boarding school because her mother, an artist, cannot deal with both her grief and her daughter. She's especially looking forward to the new school year since she is sharing a suite with her best friend Lucy. But a mysterious new girl, Ernessa, intrudes. The narrator, influenced by LeFanu "Carmilla" and other supernatural tales, becomes obsessed with the notion that Ernessa is a vampire feeding off her friend. Delusion and reality become difficult to sort out.

Lucy, like all the other girls at the school is, indeed, being consumed. Self-absorbed and narcissistic, they can see no further than themselves. As the narrator writes in a present-day afterword, "Nothing existed outside ourselves and school. For us, the world of politics, social revolution, the war in Vietnam never happened." Klein isolates her characters (for the most part) from the context of their time, but they do indulge in drugs in an era notable for questioning of reality. In some ways, the entire world was falling into chaos -- not just the world of few privileged teen-age girls. Is their world meant to be a microcosm? Is vampirism a metaphor for despair? Is any of the delusion due to drugs? Do horror stories feed psychosis?

Whether The Moth Diaries is a successful novel depends almost entirely on the reader's reaction. It is difficult to objectively judge it. The diarist might be a fascinating character for one reader and a boring neurotic child for another. Some will find it profoundly brilliant and others will consider it vapid. Most will agree that that Klein is an expert builder of paranoia and claustrophobic atmosphere. -- Cemetery Dance #44

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.