The Drowning Girl – Caitlin R. Kiernan


I have a confession to make, I have no idea how to write this review. I barely know how to explain what it´s about (I´ve read other reviews stating similar difficulties). I can tell you it is very good and that you should read it.

India Morgan Phelps, called Imp, is writing a ghost story but it isn´t a ghost story as you or I know it. According to Imp ghosts are “those memories that are too strong to be forgotten for good, echoing across the years and refusing to be obliterated by time.” She´s writing about the memories of her encounter(s) with Eva Canning who is either a vicious siren, a mermaid, a helpless wolf who came to her as a girl, or something much stranger. Imp doesn´t really know – and neither does the reader.

“I´m going to write a ghost story now,” she typed.
“A ghost story with a mermaid and a wolf,” she also typed.
I also typed.

`She´ and `I´ are both Imp. Imp is a little confused (even before the whole mermaid/siren/wolf thing). She suffers from schizophrenia and throughout the book she struggles with how to make sense of what has happened and what she thinks has happened. She remembers meeting Eva Canning both in July and November. But she only remembers her girlfriend Abalyn leaving her once (in August) and she left because of Eva. So which is it? 

Imp is an artist, she paints and writes and the story contains stories of its own; two short stories written by Imp and countless references to real and made up works. She decides to sit down and write about her odd year and what transpired, regardless of whether everything she´s writing actually happened or not. Imp admits that she is not the most reliable narrator and this becomes clear to the reader.

Imp is certainly the ever present main character  and there are few others. Those there are however are compelling, real and passionate. Especially Imp´s girlfriend Abalyn. Experiencing Imps haunting from the outside she has to make difficult choices about her place in Imps life. As a transgender woman Abalyn fills another small but important part in the novel and that is in the commentaries on gender, identity and transformation.

You see! Layers everywhere!!

This is not a book for those who want all the answers or a clean cut story where A leads to B leads to C. It´s a book filled with layers and undertows and intricacies. As Imp herself states with a conversation with her therapist:

” -You know now that you´ll never be sure what happened?” she asked.
 -“Yeah, I know now. I know that.”
 – “And you can live with that.”
 – I looked at a big sand dollar on one of her bookshelves, and then I said, “I can. I can live with that.”

And I agree. I the reader will never be sure what exactly happened, but that´s ok. The purpose in this wondrous book was not to get all the answers but to ask the questions and simply be given the pleasure of reading it.