A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
I love a novel with an unreliable narrator. It’s one of the least pretentious ways for an author to add a number of alternative readings to a story. India Morgan Phelps, the schizophrenic narrator of Caitlin Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl, is so unreliable even she’s not sure when she’s telling the truth. “It’s as true as I can manage,” she tells us early on, “It’s almost factual.”
Her story is a complex dark fantasy that involves mermaids, werewolves, and ghosts. But because we’re always left with the feeling that some of the plot is only unfolding in India’s head, we are not often asked to suspend our disbelief. India is a young painter and writer, and her story revolves around her obsession with art and literature. The paintings and stories of her youth haunt her, or cause “unwelcome thoughts” as her therapist describes them. The thoughts become so obsessive they start to invade her real life. She loses jobs, ends relationships, stops taking her medication, and finds herself lost in a world of fantasy. In the end, we are finally given some clues that help us sort the imagined elements of India’s narrative from those that actually occurred. But, of course, the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
Caitlin Kiernan has created a uniquely compelling character in India Morgan Phelps. India is intelligent, funny, sometimes frustrating, but always likeable. The novel unfolds through her narrative but is constantly interrupted by documents, letters, and even short stories. These elements add a further sense of reality to this fantasy novel, and should give it appeal to readers of literary fiction as well as science fiction, fantasy and horror readers.
Review by Matthew