The Drowning Girl

Caitlín R. Kiernan
The Drowning Girl Cover

The Drowning Girl


Ghosts are those memories that haunt us. But what happens when you cannot trust your memories? And what if the truth is worse than even your sick mind can come up with?

India Morgan Phelps, Imp to her friends, is schizophrenic. A hereditary condition, Imp has to be careful she doesn't go the way of her mother and grandmother before her, who both committed suicide. But the mind can play bizarre tricks on you, even when you're not suffering from a condition that creates false memories like Imp is. And when she has a strange encounter on a lonely stretch of road, she finds her fragile grasp on reality begin to slip through her fingers......

This book, by the end, drew so many random, contradicting emotions from me that I can't decide, even now, how I feel about it overall.

Did I enjoy it enough to give it the five stars that I have? Not. Even. Close. Do I think it deserves any less? Definitely not. I think referring to it as merely groundbreaking would be an insult to this book, the level of uniqueness that permeates it on every level, from prose to concepts. The Drowning Girl is one bizarre, mindbending, genre defying take on the ghost story and what it means to the human mind.

There's also no doubt about it, this book was one of the most infuriating reads I've ever experienced.

By design, Kiernan shirks every accepted convention of writing, and instead spins a tale that reads more like a richly ragged tapestry of vaguely connected events that coalesce into something dark and wild in Imp's schizophrenic mind. At the start, what made it so infuriating was the manner in which she builds up to her tale of hauntings, with Imp slowly developing the courage to lay out what she thinks happened, only to vacillate, turn heel, talk to herself, jump to some other event, and even outright refuse to discuss events. It's a new take on narration for me, but an extremely infuriating one that nearly made me abandon the book multiple times.

So why then didn't I? Because it all just works.

This is a tale so strange, so curiously morbid that it kept drawing me back to it out of sheer curiousity. And the frustration behind Imp's constantly vacillating style of narration just grew and grew, until she finally reveals the tale behind her hauntings, a tale that felt positively rewarding to finally learn. And this becomes Kiernan's biggest coup d' etat of the entire thing, I feel.

She makes you work to get to the story she intends to tell, and when that story finally breaks, it's an absolutely breathtaking piece of fiction.

The Drowning Girl is quite simply one of the most atmospherically immersive tales I've ever experienced. As Imp's last tethers to sanity are lost, the tale becomes a wonderfully macabre, meandering ride that constantly challenges the reader's imagination and repeatedly puts all new spins on what we thought we knew happened. As Imp narrates unfolding events, a constant questions rests at the back of the reader's mind. How much of what is being told is true, and how much of this did Imp imagine? Who's to say events actually occurred when and how she say they did, and most interestingly of all, do the answers to those questions even matter to the story? These are just some of the questions that constantly haunts the reader as tiny revelations appear in offhand manners, revelations that completely change the lights in which previous events are portrayed, and takes the story in entirely new, meandering directions.

All in all, this is definitely a book that heavily depends on the tastes of the reader. Whether you find yourself ensorcelled by the proverbial siren song Kiernan weaves with her incredible tale, or so completely frustrated or lost by her defiant refusal to present a tale told in the conventions of ordinary storytelling, I can definitely guarantee that The Drowning Girl will be an experience unlike any you've had to date. With engagingly vivid prose, an intense imagination and a lush, compelling atmosphere by turns rich as it is strange, I think this is a book you'd do yourself a disservice to miss. Whether you'll enjoy it or not is an entirely different discussion. But heavily recommended nonetheless.