Customer Review

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something rich and strange, April 3, 2012
This review is from: The Drowning Girl (Paperback)
"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.
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