Faber & Faber (2004)
Reviewed by Mitenae, August 2010
Several years after her father’s death, a sixteen year old girl spends a year of her time while at an all girls boarding school telling us about her life. About Lucy, her best friend, and Lucy’s growing friendship with the new girl, Ermessa. About her own growing jealousy of them and her preoccupation that Ermessa is a vampire as a series of accidents plague the school.
This young adult novel is not a book about vampires, rather it’s about the protagonist as she faces the challenges of growing up in a heavily female environment. The device of a diary used to tell the reader this never really gelled with me. It didn’t have all the echoes of a true diary. It felt a little constructed and it didn’t have the shorthand that diaries do, nor did it have enough of the protagonist’s personality coming through for my liking.
One big issue with this story for me is that the protagonist, the sixteen year old girl whose diary this is, is never named. Although we learn a lot about her obsessions and her life, I felt myself only getting to know a portion of whom she is. More personality is found in the foreword and the afterword than in the actual story. And this largely comes down to the choice of telling this story as a diary. As I was reading it I found myself wondering how more intense, engaging and rich this story could be if it was told from a third person perspective. For me, the diary doesn’t add to or enrich this story in any way.
My other issue with the diary is that we don’t get enough of a sense of time coming through in the writing. There are very few clues to what era this is set in, and the only real mention is a reference to Cat Stevens. In the afterword the narrator claims that they were isolated from the changes going on at the time. Having known people who were at boarding school during the 1960s I know for a fact that this is untrue. The influences, the music, the movies and most especially, the slang is still present in their lives. Yet none of this makes it into the story and thus leaves the book feeling like it could have been set ten years ago or ten years from now. As a result, the story feels more flat and shallow than perhaps it should.
If you are heavily into the current vampire fad then this isn’t going to be the book for you. But if you’re after a good solid story about a girl struggling to grow up and to make sense of who she is, then Rachel Klein has surely provided.