The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein is one of those novels that has the potential to be brilliant and falls short of realization. I had never heard of it or, if I had, overlooked it, dismissed it, moved on. I chose to read it because I saw a movie trailer and paid more attention to it because of one of the actresses. Curiosity peaked, I borrowed the book.
Perhaps I’m being cynical but, at this point, any gothic cum vampire movie that is made at this point has the taint of coat-tail riding. With the whole Twilight phenomenon, there seems to be a scramble to milk some money out of the Twi-Hards. Obviously, I am not one of those, given my loathing for the first novel and my lack of appreciation for the film version. But I anticipated that there would be a twist, some unexpected flip of the inevitable that would have me thinking this story would be more intelligent.
The story begins in the present and immediately shifts to the past. The present is the frame for the story, beginning and closing the first person narration, but it is not used to strong effect. I am not sure how the author might have given closure without the afterword; perhaps it is not necessary to have it there. Is closure necessary? Can a novel be ambiguous and still fulfill the promise of telling a story?
The bulk of the novel is told through the journal of the narrator who is one of a few borders at an all-girl school. Set in the sixties, there are a few anachronistic moments (for instance, one character referring to her parents as ‘rents) and the period does not seem to inform the story as much as I had anticipated. By placing the protagonist and the other characters in a boarding school, the intensity of the situation should be heightened. The sexuality of these girls, because they are adolescents and living at a time when the sexual revolution is rising, is bound to be all the more heightened, under the circumstances. Obsession and curiosity take center stage but the far-reaching implications are sacrificed for a sort of melodramatic conclusion.
The unreliability of the narrator herself is immediately established because of the frame. As a result, the preponderance of the tension is lost altogether. The reader is never afforded the opportunity to doubt the sanity or question the experience of the young girl writing in her journal. The reasons she may be emotionally confused are established but, because of the frame, there is no need to fully explore anything. Her father’s death, her mother’s depression, are all left “out there” in the world beyond the perimeter of the boarding school and the narrator’s emotions. How these experiences inevitably weave into the events that are recorded in her journal are glossed over, at best, as are the many emotions she struggles to make sense of as she confronts the contradictions that make up the self.
I suspect that the movie will prove to be better than the book, especially considering the director who is taking up the reins of this story. A movie doesn’t have to deeply explore the more universal questions that the novel almost lays out; a movie just has to look pretty. The novel gives the reader enough pretty moments and the casting director has offered up sufficiently pretty actors, to make the movie a success. If the novel doesn’t bring much new to the table, that’s unfortunate. It certainly hints at so much more and, because it only hints and never fulfills, I was disappointed.