Contented Reader

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The Drowning Girl

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The Drowning Girl

Caitlín Kiernan


I’ve read The Drowning Girl twice now, but twice is not enough to gain a full mastery of this slippery, elusive plot.  The narrator is profoundly unreliable, and the story is complex.  The book is beautiful and elusive and many-layered and I can’t escape the conviction that if I read it slowly and carefully just once more, I will surely understand it more completely.  But then, that’s how I felt after the first reading.  Here are some things that I’m pretty sure really happened in the novel:

  • India Morgan Phelps, known as ‘Imp,’ is schizophrenic.  Sometimes she sees and hears things that aren’t there, and sometimes she remembers things that didn’t happen.  She knows she can’t rely on her own mind.
  • Imp loves Abalyn, a transgendered video-game reviewer she picked up and took home when Abalyn was in need.
  • Imp met Eva.  What happened between them was so upsetting to Imp that she built several layers of false memory to deal with it, and her tenuous grip on sanity, for a little while, failed her entirely.

Here are some things that might be true in the novel, or not.  At least some of them must be true.  They can’t all be true.  I’m pretty sure I know which things really happened, and which didn’t, but I think there’s a level of truth to the things that didn’t happen, too.

  • In July, Imp met Eva, who was lost in a river.
  • In November, Imp met Eva, who was lost in the woods.
  • Abalyn left Imp in August.
  • Abalyn didn’t leave Imp at all.
  • A few years ago, Eva inspired a haunting work of art.
  • A few centuries ago, Eva inspired a haunting work of art.
  • Eva is the survivor of a tragedy.
  • Eva is a ghost.
  • Eva is a mermaid.
  • Eva is a werewolf.
  • Eva is lost, and needs help.
  • Eva is dangerous, and means harm.
  • There is a force, dark and inviting and deadly, in the water.
  • Imp’s medications help her understand what happened.
  • Imp’s medications prevent her from understanding what  happened.
  • People use art to mediate reality.
  • The Drowning Girl is a fantasy story about a werewolf, a mermaid, a sea monster, and a ghost.
  • The Drowning Girl is an entirely realistic story about schizophrenia, with nothing supernatural in it at all.
  • The Drowning Girl is a fantasy story with a schizophrenic narrator.
  • Imp is haunted.

After you read the book, don’t miss the photographs inspired by the story at Kiernan’s web site.  They are beautiful images of Imp, Abalyn, and Eva, and a few of the events of the novel, and they won’t be at all helpful in figuring out what really happened to Imp.

But after all, while what really happened to Imp is the plot, and it’s important, more important is the ideas – about love, and memory, and guilt, and most especially abut art.


Written by Contented Reader

July 17, 2012 at 8:08 am

Posted in Reviews


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