“I took his hands, and his body slumped into mine, and he whispered a few times, I’m so hungry, I’m so hungry, I’m so hungry. And then, I ate him.”
Claire Kohda’s novel Woman, Eating is about an adolescent mixed-race vampire who is tasked to find the means to resolve her great yearning to dwell amongst people, with her voracious appetite.
Claire is a musician and writer from England. She critiques manuscripts for publications such as The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement. She has performed as a violinist with Jessie Ware, RY X, Pete Tong, the London Contemporary Orchestra, and The English Chamber Orchestra, as well as on movie soundtracks.
Woman, Eating was written over the height of the dreaded pandemic, while the author was temporarily out of work. She also notes that she had crafted the piece in the midst of racist attacks against Asians in the UK.
In this vivid debut novel from a writer-to-watch, the plot centers around Lydia, a young Japanese-Malaysian-British vampire struggling to blend into the renowned art scene in London.
The main character is in a constant state of hunger, craving a bite of Japanese food to commemorate her heritage. Sushi, ramen, onigiri- all the foods her Japanese father enjoyed eating.
She, however, is unable to consume any of these foods. Her anatomy does not function like other folks. Blood is the only food she can ingest, and acquiring fresh pigs’ blood in London, where she is living separately from her vampire mother for the very first time, is proving to be far more challenging than she had anticipated.
Then there are the humans: the other artisans at her workshop, the people at the gallery where she interns, the unsettling men who stalk her late at night- and Ben, a childlike, quirky artist with whom she begins forming romantic ties with. Lydia is aware that they are her natural prey, yet she refuses to devour them.
The vamp analyses her place in the world in her poorly ventilated studio, wherein she paints and analyzes the work of other artists while binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and clips of people eating food on YouTube and Instagram. She has many of the attributes that humans desire—perpetual youth, near-invulnerability, eternal life she is unhappy, lonesome, and… well, hungry.
As she grows as a woman and an artist, she discovers the importance of finding a balance between her mixed-species and multicultural background, and her relationship with food and humans in order to conclude her pursuit of harmony and happiness. But of course, not before she has something to eat…
Fans have described the novel as thought-provoking- not as graphic as vampire fiction usually is, rather it is more accurate to the history of vampires in Asian folklore, never overdoing the blood and fangs trope. In short, the tale serves readers the perfect helping of vamp-romance and classic accents of horror with an understated modern zest.
One particular review read, “If you’re looking for thrills, chills, suspense, horror, blood, guts and gore, then move along as you will not find any of that here. This is a character study of an interesting and intriguing young woman, a coming of age, or at least, coming of womanhood, narrated by a fascinating voice I will not soon forget.”
Others have deemed the book unsettling and viscerally disgusting- as most fantasy novels yearn to be.
“Most vampire fiction gets vampires wrong. Or at least, it creates vampires I don’t care for or about, glamorous nihilists drunk on decadence or brooding forever-teens. And so, it’s always a pleasure and sometimes an event when someone gets vampires right. And this book came tantalizingly close,” read another.
In my opinion, Woman, Eating is the holy grail for grown-up Twilight lovers looking for mature literary content while retaining the whole romantic vampire craze. Today, the novel is a Booktok sensation, with many users acknowledging it as a disturbing horror staple.