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Sunday, June 27, 2010

THE MOTH DIARIES By Rachel Klein. London: Faber, 2004

This book was published a long time ago. I'm guessing that it has been sent for review again because there are plans afoot to make a movie based on it. From what I have read, it will be a horror movie, which may or may not be able to show the questions raised by the book.

It’s an interesting read – and a long way from the vampire romances coming out so regularly now.

Set in a boarding school for girls, some time in the 1970s, this very Gothic novel reads like a cross between Carmilla and The Turn Of The Screw. The narrator writes a foreword and afterword thirty years down the track, saying that her psychiatrist has suggested publishing the diary she kept at school, which he has had since treating her. Names will be changed “to protect the innocent”, but we never learn hers at all.

The narrator resents new girl Ernessa, who has taken over her friendship with Lucy Blake, the golden-haired airhead who, nevertheless, helped the diarist settle into the boarding school where she was sent after her father committed suicide (or did he? Was it suicide or murder?). She becomes convinced that Ernessa is a vampire. Ernessa never seems to eat. Her bed seems to be unslept-in. There is a bad smell coming from her room, though only the diarist seems to notice it. Lucy is gradually becoming weaker and weaker. There is, of course, an irony in the name Lucy - the same as Dracula’s victim - although at one point in the novel the diarist sneers at a teacher who suggests she might enjoy Stoker’s book.

The thing is, the narrator is unreliable, much like the one in Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. There are hints throughout the book that she is not quite right in her mind, that, as with the governess in The Turn of The Screw, it might all be in her head. She does seem to find evidence for her beliefs – very compelling evidence – but is she telling the truth, even in her diary? I was expecting a twist at the end – and there was, so make sure you read it all the way to the end, including the “Afterword”. And, to give the author credit, there are clues throughout the novel. She isn’t unfair to her readers.

I’d recommend this book for good readers from about sixteen up.

There are many references in it to classic supernatural fiction, but the one I would suggest handing the reader afterwards is Carmilla, which is mentioned several times and with good reason.

And please- read it BEFORE you see the movie. However good it is - we'll have to see - it may not be able to throw out the same clues.

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