I'm surprised that WOMAN, EATING seems to have such mixed reviews because I thought it was brilliant, evocative, and lovely. It's one of those books that captures that sort of wistful melancholy that alternative girls living in the aughts had so perfectly that I had to check the publication date and think, "Wait, what year was this published again?" Even though this book has smartphones and the like, it really reminded me of the sad girl fiction I loved reading in high school, like THE BELL JAR or WHITE OLEANDER.
The heroine, Lydia, is a vampire. But she's not particularly peppy or dynamic. Her mother raised her by telling her that she was a demon, filthy, and that all they deserved to eat was pig's blood. So Lydia has a lot of hang-ups about eating and food. I saw a couple reviews comparing this to an eating disorder and I would agree: her fixation on food, both blood and human food, and her desperate hook on it for control, to test her limits, really feel like a human ED. Because of that, I really do think this could be triggering for people with EDs.
Unsurprisingly, Lydia also has anxiety and depression. Her mother has lost her grip on sanity and despite presenting at a young age, has been confined to an assisted living home, Lydia, meanwhile, has retreated to an artists' compound. With her Japanese and Malaysian ancestry, she has an unusual face and doesn't quite fit in anywhere, so I guess an artists' community is as good a place as any to hide out. Plus, her father was apparently quite a renowned artist. So Lydia sort of gets to know her fellow artists, takes an internship in a gallery filled with unspeakably awful people... and she just... exists.
I feel like the last book I read that took this "nevertheless, she existed" route was Naoise Dolan's EXCITING TIMES, which also had a heroine who was incredibly restless and dissatisfied and didn't really do much. That was another book that had mixed reception from my friends that I also quite liked. I think the reason these books work for me is because I have anxiety and depression too, so it's validating to see books where even if the heroine isn't a vivacious go-getter with an interesting life, she's still interesting and complex, despite the fact that her universe is largely internal. It also helps that I love art, and this book lives and breathes art (and food!). The descriptions in this book were gorgeous, and it got surprisingly philosophical and deep at times. I love the idea of a living clock made of flowers that bloom at various times of day.
I'm giving this four stars instead of the five I originally planned because the ending, while satisfying, dragged. There were also a couple things I didn't get closure on-- the man staring at her from the train, I expected him to be a vampire hunter or someone who knew something about her past and wanted to blackmail for it. I also felt like Lydia's lost luggage could-- and probably should-- have been a plot point instead of just something that fell off the face of the earth. Chekhov's luggage, you know? But apart from those little nitpicks, I really loved this book and would definitely read more from this author.
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars