CLaire Kohda’s debut is memorable for the refreshing perspective of her conflicted heroine: a vampire of mixed ethnicity and recent art graduate. Lydia struggles to accept the demon inside her and yearns to love, live and eat like a human. Her father de ella, a successful Japanese artist, died before she was born. Lydia has committed her mother de ella, a Malaysian-English vampire in declining health, to a home in Margate and accepted an internship with a contemporary London gallery known as the Otter.
woman eating opens with Lydia renting an artist’s studio in a converted biscuit factory. She’s shown around by the kind and friendly Ben, to whom she is immediately attracted. At the gallery, Lydia is given banal jobs cleaning labels off bottles and adding velvet pads to coat hangers in preparation for the next opening. Largely ignored by the staff, Lydia receives the unwanted attention of the director – cold, predatory Gideon – who, she learns, had collected her father’s art from her. He stands in the shadows observing her, unaware that, as a vampire, Lydia can see him in the dark and the blood coursing through her veins. One day, passing on the stairs, he gropes her buttock from her. It’s an act he’ll later regret.
Kohda is excellent at conveying Lydia’s alienation and sense of powerlessness – the realization that as an intern she is invisible and irrelevant. Less engaging are the descriptions of Lydia’s inactivity of her at the studio (where she also sleeps). Alone, she rolls around the floor, scrolls through Instagram posts and YouTube videos, consumed by thoughts of human food and the demonic desire to drink blood. While Lydia is well drawn, several of Kohda’s characters feel sketchy. The fellow artists who rent studios are names rather than personalities. Certain plot strands are left hanging. We never find out what happens to her mother de ella languishing in the aptly named Crimson Orchard and Kohda has a tendency to explain her de ella vampire tropes de ella rather than allow us to draw our own conclusions.
However, there is much to admire in this original take on millennial angst. Kohda’s depiction of a young woman’s appetites – sexual and emotional – and Lydia’s loneliness are perceptive. Kohda makes some sharp observations about the world of modern art, its elitism and the precarious nature of jobs in the creative sector: “What’s after internships?” Lydia asks. Kohda need not worry. The fact she’s already working on a television adaptation suggests a fruitful career ahead.