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Crescent Blues Book ViewsBantam (Trade Paperback) ISBN: 0-553-38218-7

The Moth Diaries delivers one of the subtlest vampire stories you could ever hope to encounter -- subtle to the point that at the book's end it remains up to the reader to decide whether the book qualifies as a vampire story at all. In other words, it is one of that delicious -- and rare -- breed of fictions called the "fantasy of perception." You will certainly find fantastication here, but one cannot call the events described anything other than mundane. They might have been fantasticated by the observer, the protagonist.

Book: rachel klein, the moth diaries
An adolescent girl sent to an exclusive and very peculiar single-sex boarding school functions as the observer in The Moth Diaries. Except for a brief prologue and epilogue added by her in much later life, the text consists entirely of her schooldays diary. In it we learn of her various friendships and enmities -- all seemingly transitory -- with her fellow pupils. In particular, we learn about her largely unrecognized crush on her room-mate Lucy and her hatred and fear of the new kid across the hall, Ernessa. Assuredly, the reader will find many things weird and possibly detestable about Ernessa, but Ernessa's true -- if again unrecognized -- crime in the eyes of the narrator is that Lucy considers Ernessa's company significantly more desirable than the unnamed narrator's.

The other girls sense Ernessa's strangeness, too, but also her allure. Ernessa could perhaps be regarded as a personification of the adult sexuality about which they are all so insatiably curious. It tantalizes and attracts them, because they eagerly wish to experiment with it. Yet they also fear it because of its unknownness and its obvious dangers. Together, the girls spy on Ernessa to see if they can solve the perceived mystery of her nature.

Our narrator proves more assiduous in her detective efforts than any other girl. Even when one of the students falls to her death off the school roof during one of these spying expeditions, the narrator refuses to be long distracted from her partially successful quest.

For our narrator cherishes a specific reason to unpick the riddle of Ernessa. Lucy, the girl the narrator loves (even if she cannot admit this to herself) suffers from an undiagnosable illness that seems to be sapping her very life away. The authorities, of course, dismiss the diarists' accusations of spiritual vampirism as the nonsensical ravings of a disturbed pubescent. Yet it cannot be denied that when Lucy leaves the school (and thus Ernessa) her health recovers, but when she returns she goes once more into decline.

Klein deliberately uses an almost flat style of narrative, eschewing linguistic melodramatics in favor of something much more menacing -- and much more engrossing. This novel soon becomes extremely hard to put down. Written with this beautiful restraint and functioning at a number of allegorical levels, The Moth Diaries proves to be a book you'll almost certainly want to read more than once.

John Grant

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