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Gary K Wolfe reviews Caitlin R Kiernan's The Drowning Girl:

There are least a few passages in her new novel The Drowning Girl: A Memoir in which Caitlín R. Kiernan seems determined to reinvent the terms of Gothic fiction from the ground up, and she comes amazingly close to succeeding. Her protagonist Imp (short for India Morgan Phelps) is a narrator so unreliable she doesn’t even trust her own accounts – she tells us up front that she’s schizophrenic, that ‘‘My family’s lunacy lines up tidy as boxcars,’’ and that she’s only escaped hospitalization herself through a medley of medications. She sometimes refers to herself in third person, and whenever she goes off her meds it’s a signal that we’re in for one of those remarkably visceral and visionary passages that may get us closer to the core truth of the novel than anything in Imp’s acutely self-conscious attempts to make a narrative out of what’s happening to her (she also keeps reminding us of the crucial distinction between truth and fact). But instead of the fevered Gothic you-will-think-me-mad-but-I-swear-it’s-true voice which we’ve heard from Poe to de Maupassant to Lovecraft, Imp’s voice is disarmingly engaging, sometimes remarkably sensual, and always self-questioning. She’s a remarkable character – probably Kiernan’s best – whose truth we want to believe in even as we question her facts. ‘‘My stories shape-shift like mermaids and werewolves,’’ she tells us, and she’s right.

Meanwhile, Sofia Samatar has been reading Kiernan's previous novel, The Red Tree, and has thoughts about footnotes: "That's the feeling the footnotes and quotations give me: the feeling of expansion, that the world of the book is bigger than the book itself."



Niall Harrison is a reader and fan.
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