Caitlín R. Kiernan – The Drowning Girl

Why did I read this? The fault lies with three parties. Number one is this post on where The Drowning Girl is mentioned by several people as their favorite read of 2012. Number two, and this one convinced me to get the book, was the Writer and the Critic podcast. They offer in-depth discussions of books which means spoilers, so I only listened to a little bit of that episode but it made me want to go and grab this book so badly. Number three is that it is now nominated for a Nebula Award. That gave me the last nudge to pick up the book I had already bought. And here I am, two days later, not quite knowing how to rave sufficiently and still keep some semblance of eloquence…

drowning girlTHE DROWNING GIRL
by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Published by: Roc, 2012
ISBN: 1101577193
ebook: 352 pages

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: “I’m going to write a ghost story now,” she typed.

India Morgan Phelps-Imp to her friends-is schizophrenic. Struggling with her perceptions of reality, Imp must uncover the truth about her encounters with creatures out of myth-or from something far, far stranger…

dividerIt is hard to put into words what this book is about. Even the narrator has a difficult time explaining it. India Morgan Phelps, called Imp, comes from a line of insane women. Both her grandmother and her mother ended up killing themselves and Imp herself is taking medication for her schizophrenia. In an attempt to make sense of the events that happened to her over two years ago, she writes down her “ghost story” and lets us in on her very personal haunting.

This book was SO GOOD. You can tell whenever I use all caps that a book really got to me. I dare you to pick this up and put it back down. It’s one of those books that make you forget you should sleep and notice at three in the morning that you are still reading. Imp’s voice, as confused as it is at times, drew me in quickly. I was spellbound and couldn’t tell you what kept me reading more eagerly. Trying to get to the end of Imp’s ghost story? Figuring out what really happened? Seeing all angles and sides of Imp’s flawed memories? Either way, this was better than any thriller I’ve ever read.

quotes greyIf I’m not writing this to be read – which I’m most emphatically not – and if it’s not a book, as such, then why is it that I’m bothering with chapters? Why does anyone bother with chapters? Is it just so the reader knows where to stop and pee, or have a snack, or turn off the light and go to sleep?

(c) Michael Zulli

(c) Michael Zulli

The narration as such was also intriguing. Imp doesn’t do linear. She’s not always clear about things; of some events she has a dual memory. She interrupts herself,  inserts stories she wrote, pieces of poetry, descriptions of paintings and references to artists (both real and fictional). By doing this, the author managed to mix myth with reality, fact with truth (and they are not the same thing, as Imp will be quick to tell you) and give the story other fascinating layers. I’m a sucker for great characters and I love mythology. There are so many things to be discovered here that I couldn’t pick out what I liked best. This book begs to be re-read, because although I regonised some poems, “Gloomy Sunday” and some other tidbits of art, history, and mythology, I am sure I have missed more than I can count. Despite its complexities, Imp’s voice is easy to follow. The hard part is keeping things straight as the ultimate unreliable narrator tells us she doesn’t even know what is fact and what is only truth.

quotes greyI didn’t set out to appease the Tyrrany of Plot. Lives do not unfold in tidy plots, and it’s the worst sort of artifice to insist that the tales we tell – to ourselves and to one another – must be forced to conform to the plot, A-to-Z linear narratives, three acts, the dictates of Aristotle, rising action and climax and falling action and most especially the artifice of resolution.

Imp’s relationship with Abalyn interested me at least as much as did Eva Canning. From simple thoughts – like which first meeting with Eva was the “real” one – I moved on to different theories and ideas. I love being strung along by a crafty author. I do not need to know where a story is going to enjoy it. Guessing and making up theories are more fun to me than being told straight up what happened. Caitlín R. Kiernan seems to be one of those authors who let her readers do part of the work in creating a novel. She serves us enough description and information to fuel our own imagination – and her descriptions of the painting The Drowning Girl or Eva Canning’s eyes were brilliant, to say the least – but it is the parts that are not described, only hinted at, that make this truly terrifying. In reading this, you are creating your own myth, your own personal haunting and it is as terrifying as it is beautiful.

What did I think? This was a gem of a novel! It was scary and disturbing, filled with magic and myth and magnificent prose that rivals any of the classical Gothic ghost stories. Caitlín R. Kiernan takes well-known tropes of speculative fiction, blending horror, fantasy and psychological thriller elements, and creates something entirely new. I have not read any of the other Nebula nominees for 2012 yet, but it’s going to be damn hard to keep up with this one.

The Good: Fantastic prose, the best use of an unreliable narrator I have yet seen, an atmosphere as creepy as it is intriguing.
The Bad: If you need to know where you’re at in a story, if you like to follow a red thread or a clear story arc, then this may not be for you. I urge you to give it a try anyway.
The Verdict: Like a siren song, this book sings you into a trance and won’t let go until you’ve turned that last page.

Rating:  9/10  Close to perfection


Second Opinions

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