The Drowning Girl

Caitlín R. Kiernan
The Drowning Girl Cover

The Drowning Girl


The Drowning Girl is Imp, a paranoid schizophrenics attempt at telling a ghost story. It's her ghost story and her haunting. The novel is not just a ghost story, it's novel about mental illness, love, art and interpretation. Imp is an unreliable narrator and throughout the novel the reader has to decide or guess at wht is real or not. The novel has time shifts and plays with structure. Without giving away too much the novel could be about ghosts, sirens, mermaids, werewolves, transgender and / or metamorphis and art either mirroring or creating reality.

I think it's a struggle for me personally to review this book as it didn't really click for me. I can see why it has received it's plaudits and I can also see why some people would absolutely love this book. The quality of writing is excellent with some beautiful sentence structures and imagery. The structure teases and twists and for me is the greatest strength of the book (paintings, short stories, fairy tales and excerpts from other sources / media both add to the depth and confusion). A chapter midway through the book and fundamental to the story is one of the best pieces of writing I have read in a long time as the reader delves deeper into Imp's mind.

I like fantastical novels which are open to interpretation and benefit from repeat readings (I'm a massive Haruki Murakami fan and I think he does this so much better). I also like novels that play with what is real or otherwise but in the case of The Drowning Girl it felt that most of the time and energy was spent trying to work out what was goign on rather than enjoying reading the book. At the end, it felt that I had worked hard but had no desire to think more deeply about it. Partly I think this was due to not connecting with Imp or particularly caring about her and the fact that there is no let up in the novel for the reader to take stock and consider what it going on.

Much has been made of the treatment of transgender issues in the novel - to be honest I didn't think a particualrly big deal was made of it. Maybe that's what is good about the treatment - I viewed Abalyn as Abalyn, not a transgendered person.

Many people are going to love this book and whilst not an out and out horror story there are quite a few moments where I was spooked. It is well written and most people will get quite a lot out of the book. I just think one has to work quite hard to get there and I'm not left with the feeling it was worth the investment.