"The Drowning Girl" is a book that doesn't fit neatly into any category -- it's a haunting, dreamlike novel awash in mermaids, werewolves, fairy tales, art and schizophrenia. Caitlin Kiernan is at the peak of her wordcrafting powers in this story, weaving together a truly spellbinding fantasy in which nothing is quite as it seems.
Schizophrenia runs in India Morgan Phelp's (aka Imp) family. Her mother committed suicide because of it, and she still struggles on a daily basis -- especially since she can't trust her own memories. It also gives her some oddities, including a fascination with the Red Riding Hood fairytale, drowning victims and a painting called "The Drowning Girl."
But one night, she finds a naked woman named Eva Canning out by the river. Much to the dismay of her girlfriend Abalyn, Imp brings her home to shower off.
From then on, Imp is haunted by Eva Canning, who may be a mermaid, a werewolf, or two different women altogether. As her relationship and her sanity crumble, Imp must somehow put the fragmented pieces of her psyche together and discover the secrets of Eva Canning, and how much of this magical sea woman comes from insanity...
Reading "The Drowning Girl" is akin to slowly being pulled into a crystalline whirlpool, only to be just as slowly swept out onto a moonlit beach. Caitlin Kiernan immerses you into Imp's mind until -- like her -- you can't tell fantasy from reality, magic from madness. Memories are unreliable, truth becomes fluid.
The plot revolves around four very different women. Imp is a brilliant, fragmented woman haunted by countless things, and she's being tugged between the world of sanity (Dr. Ogilvie) and the world of enthralling, magical madness (Eva). The one rock in her life is Abalyn, a beautiful, feisty transsexual woman who loves Imp passionately despite her mental problems.
And Kiernan's writing is the most beautiful here that I have ever seen it -- lush, sensual and quirkily evocative (Imp's headache is "gremlins running around in my skull banging on pots and pans"). She spins up some spellbinding images with her words ("the pale, scale-dappled form of a woman bobbing in the frothing waves, her wet black hair tangled with wriggling crabs and fish").
But she also scatters it with sharp, glassy glimpses of Imp's madness, including a whole chapter written in a manic, hallucinatory style. She immerses you into Imp's mind until you feel all her uncertainty, her pain, her fragility. It's brilliant, but hard to read.
"The Drowning Girl" is a spellbinding, sea-scented depiction of love, madness and art -- and it will leave you feeling changed. Definitely one of the year's must-reads.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2013
Unbelievable that anyone with a modicum of intelligence could fail to see the cold brilliance behind the prose of this novel. Almost as if Kiernan, like D H Lawrence, needs her own F R Leavis to explain what is happening here, the clash between dream and reality, the realization that ultimately words themselves are conductors of great and potent energies.
Kiernan, if nothing else, writes for the ear. She is an American Homer, if you will, tangled up in her own painful but personal utterances which grow from the `base idiom' of newspapers and popular media, but that show us prophetic visions, from which we must ask: What is reality and how can it be confronted?
Kiernan presents us with a simple dialect of despair. The diaphanous stains of life in flux, lost beyond shimmering curtains of a mind in crises...
Ultimately, annihilating as deeply inhaled carbon monoxide, but also as wonderful as LIFE!
FIVE STARS is not sufficient, people, this is a quite simply a Velociraptor of a book!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 August 2013
I read a lot of books, and this is one of the best, the story is twisting, and confusing. Its a interesting, real look into madness, dark, gothic, utterly wonderful prose. Check it out.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 March 2014
I've been picking this book up and putting it down for over a week, now. I really wanted to like it, as I thought the premise was really interesting, but despite my best efforts, I couldn't finish it.
The style is writing tends to be rambling. Caitlin Keirnan starts a chapter with something like 'This is the time I saw a ghost', and then 5 pages later she never actually gets around to writing anything of the sort, it just trundles along, flitting from this to that. If you don't concentrate the entire time (which I had to, because the book wasn't gripping me), then you can blink and realise you have no idea what the character is talking about.
I appreciate that it is first person, and the character is schizophrenic and such, but the continuous word vomit is tiring and frustrating.
I will admit that I may be proven wrong if I managed to finish the book, but reading is my hobby, it's not meant to be a chore.