Welcome! Log in or Register

Girl, Interrupted - Susanna Kaysen

  • image
£1.04 Best Offer by: amazon.co.uk marketplace See more offers
10 Reviews

Author: Susanna Kaysen / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 17 February 2000 / Genre: General / Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group / Title: Girl, Interrupted / ISBN 13: 9781860497926 / ISBN 10: 1860497926

  • Sort by:

    * Prices may differ from that shown

  • Write a review >
    How do you rate the product overall? Rate it out of five by clicking on one of the hearts.
    What are the advantages and disadvantages? Use up to 10 bullet points.
    Write your reviews in your own words. 250 to 500 words
    Number of words:
    Write a concise and readable conclusion. The conclusion is also the title of the review.
    Number of words:
    Write your email adress here Write your email adress

    Your dooyooMiles Miles

    10 Reviews
    Sort by:
    • More +
      27.11.2012 18:30
      2 Comments

      Advantages

      Disadvantages

      If you fancy something a bit different give it a read

      This is a really great book, which not only manages to be funny, touching and compelling but also manages to give an honest insight into the real world of the mental hospital (albeit a few years ago!).

      It is basically a memoir by Susanna Kaysen, who at 18 years old (in 1967) was sent off to a psychiatric hospital on the recommendation of a psychiatrist with whom she had only met once. Despite the decidedly sketchy diagnosis she was to spend the next two years of her life on the ward for teenage girls being treated for 'depression'. Some time after her release she managed to obtain her hospital file and so began the process of writing a book about her time at McLean Hospital. The book is written in an unusual manner, including some fairly random memories of the events that took place there and the people / friends she met and also some of her actual hospital records. It isn't done in a normal story, the start, the middle, the end, format, but it works really well and reflects the somewhat confusing times she spent during that time of her life.

      Comments

      Login or register to add comments
      • More +
        18.08.2010 22:06
        Very helpful
        (Rating)
        8 Comments

        Advantages

        Disadvantages

        The story of a troubled young girl, well worth reading!

        Girl, Interrupted is the 1993 memoir of Susanna Kaysen, telling the story of her admittance to McLean Psychiatric Hospital in the 1960s after being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. After receiving her medical file from the hospital, Kaysen began compiling the documents along with her memories to form the memoir.

        In 1967, Susanna Kaysen was admitted to McLean Hospital after attempting to commit suicide. Here she is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and ultimately resides in the hospital for a term of eighteen months.
        Throughout the memoir, Susanna makes reference to other patients at the hospital, in particular a girl called Lisa. Lisa is often seen as the antagonist - she is a sociopath and makes frequent escapes from the hospital. She is an ex addict and enjoys trouble. To the reader is often seems like Lisa will drag Susanna back, and prohibit her from 'getting better' as such.
        Another character we often hear from is Georgina, who is Susanna's roommate at the hospital. As the most sane people there, the two bond and will ultimately become life-long friends. Susanna introduces us to many characters throughout in a very powerful way which have an impact on the reader.

        Girl, Interrupted is Susanna reflecting on her time in McLean, by attempting to understand the border between sanity and insanity. She also reflects upon a period of depersonalisation, in which she became convinced that she had lost her bones. As a result, she bit her own flesh in an attempt to see if they we're still there. This is a very powerful episode on the memoir, and should not be read by the fainthearted!

        The memoir is incredibly thought provoking and a highly gripping read. Featuring copies of the actual hospital documents, it really gives the reader an insight into life inside the hospital. Although primarily set in chronological order, it isn't always - this also gives a sense of realism, as though Kaysen has suddenly recalled something.

        Although the story is not in-depth it does not feel as though anything has been left out. As much as a book about insanity can be, this is highly satisfying! I consider this to be one of the best books I have ever read and would definately recommend it to anyone looking for a great read.

        I will warn you however, this is not for the lighthearted. I found certain episodes in the book to be very though provoking and at times slightly disturbing, but never the less highly interesting.

        Comments

        Login or register to add comments
        • More +
          06.01.2010 22:04
          Very helpful
          (Rating)
          1 Comment

          Advantages

          Disadvantages

          The psychiatric treatment and recovery of a young adult

          The movie 'Girl, Interrupted' was based on this book by Susanna Kaysen but with many of the details changed (with Kaysen's involvement as she received a credit on the movie).

          The book details Susanna Kaysen's depression and subsequent psychiatric treatment, written from a first person autobiographical point of view. In general everything in the book is real events, with a few details such as names of other patients having been changed. As well as the main narrative the book includes some reproductions of actual case notes etc from Kaysen's hospital and doctor visits.


          I was drawn in instantly by the opening of the book ("People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well") and found the book very easy to read yet always feeling engaged and sympathetic to the young Susanna. Kaysen has a rather distinctive and concise style (I haven't read any of her other books so am not sure if this is typical of her or is just the style she used in this particular book).

          Whether you have been through any sort of depression etc. yourself or not, the book is a great insight into the workings of the mind and will be an eye opener. If you have seen the movie based on it or are planning to see it, it's definitely worth reading the book as well, as I thought a number of the characters were detailed out more in terms of "personality" in the book than in the movie, even though in the book they are all seen from the young Susanna's perspective.

          Towards the end of the book, Kaysen details her eventual recovery and going back out into the world having left McLean hospital. Although she is 'recovered' from the initial issues she still has a deep insight into issues of the mind and emotions.

          Recommended read though perhaps emotionally quite difficult given the subject matter.

          Comments

          Login or register to add comments
          • More +
            01.01.2010 18:23
            Very helpful
            (Rating)
            16 Comments

            Advantages

            Disadvantages

            A harrowing account of life in a psychiatric hospital in the 60's.

            I came across Girl, Interrupted whilst looking through a pile of books at work, looking for something to read on one of my sleep-over shifts.
            The title seemed familiar, then I noticed on the cover it states that the book was made into a film starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. This triggered my memory, although I have never seen the film I can recall hearing about it.

            Girl, Interrupted is a personal memoir written by Susanna Kaysen, telling how as an eighteen year old back in 1967, Susanna had what she remembers to be a 20 minute session with a psychiatrist she had never seen before. After the session, she was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital to be treated for depression and ended up spending eighteen months on a ward for teenage girls.
            The McLean Hospital was renowned for its famous clientele such as Ray Charles and James Taylor, but Kaysen herself did not feel she needed to be there and this book is an attempt to make sense of it all and come to terms with her experience.

            Kaysen was born in 1948 and brought up in Massachusetts where she still lives. She has written three novels, but whilst working on the latter, memories of her stay at the psychiatric hospital began to emerge. She enlisted the help of a lawyer,managed to obtain her 350 page file from the hospital and began writing her memoir.

            The book itself is quite short at only 168 pages and I was able to read it in one sitting.
            It is written as short non-chronological vignettes including excerpts from Kaysen's case file including admission notes and observations.

            Kaysen begins her story with a short chapter explaining that people ask, "How did you get in there?" She explains that what they really want to know is, could it happen to them? And goes on to try and make some sort of sense of how easy it is to slip into a parallel universe, adding that whilst you are in the parallel universe, although it is invisible from your normal life, once you are in it then it's easy to see the world you came from. She points out that every window on Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco.

            This then leads to Kaysen recalling being sent to the McLean hospital. One minute she is being asked about picking at a pimple, the next minute she is being told she needs a rest, and recalls the doctor with a triumphant look on his face, bundling her into a taxi to the hospital with strict instructions not to let her out until she gets there.

            What follows is a philosphical account of life inside the hospital, which at times can seem quite odd as Kaysen muses about her fellow inmates and how funny some of them were, yet it does not appear as amusing to the reader as Kaysen recalls a girl who never slept for two years, yet she was so funny and kept everyone's spirits up, or another who set herself on fire.

            We learn of the reasons for Kaysen's admission as she recalls taking 50 aspirin and discover a little of her life prior to being admitted. Her parents were willing to pay the high fees to keep her in the hospital and reading some of the case notes included in the book, reveals that her father was afraid she might kill herself or get pregnant as she was promiscuous. Also she suffered from a reversal of sleep cycle. Kaysen was told she had a 'character disorder'.

            I myself have worked in the mental health field for a number of years and reading this memoir hit home to me how thankfully, treatment has improved so much since the 1960's. Her treatment would be so much different nowadays and although she had suffered depression and had a failed suicide attempt, when she speaks of her own and fellow patients suicide attempts whilst in the hospital, you can't help but wonder if a lot of the problems were increased by being locked away from normality.
            However, this is how it was back then and it makes for sad and often harrowing reading. The treatment of mental illness and the attitudes towards it in the 1960's, was far different to what it is today.

            I could not help but feel that her treatment was not fair, but I think anyone reading this book would feel the same.

            Kaysen does inject humour into her account which made me smile but also makes you feel sad at the same time. The language of the girls often crude and to the point, this book pulls no punches and is an honest account of eighteen months spent inside a psychiatric hospital in the 60's.

            The final part of the book tells of Kaysen's life after leaving the hospital. Her resentment towards society that allowed it all to happen is apparent throughout.
            Kaysen tells of how most of the patients got out eventually and speaks of meeting up with one or two of them afterwards. Here Kaysen comes across as more than a little self-obssessed, which made for uncomfortable reading at times and seemed a little reminiscent of her behaviours which led to her admission to hospital.

            Overall, Girl, Interrupted was an easy to read account of treatment of mental illness 40 years ago. It certainly makes you think and appreciate how treatments and attitudes have changed for the better today. I thought it could have done with being a little longer, but it is a short, yet concise piece of writing telling not only of Kaysen's imperfections, but also those of the system that treated her.

            Comments

            Login or register to add comments
              More Comments
            • More +
              29.08.2009 16:09
              Very helpful
              (Rating)
              12 Comments

              Advantages

              Disadvantages

              Interesting and well written short memoir

              From 1967 eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen spent two years at the famous McLean Hospital (of Sylvia Plath fame) in a psychiatric ward for teenage girls after a short session with a psychiatrist she'd never seen before. Girl, Interrupted (first published in 1993) is a memoir of her time there and told in a series of short non-chronological vignettes in which we, and Kaysen, slowly try and piece together the events that led to her spending so long at McLean and get a portrait of life in this strange and sometimes disturbing environment. 'People ask, how did you get in there?' writes Kaysen. 'What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can't answer the real question. All I can tell them is it's easy. It is easy to slip into a parallel universe. These worlds exist alongside this world.' The book ruminates on society's definitions of what constitutes sanity or insanity with Kaysen herself, despite her circumstances and location, sometimes feeling like a sane person in an insane world.

              Girl, Interrupted is a relatively short memoir (my paperback copy runs to only 167 pages) but an interesting and very readable book that has unfortunately been a little overshadowed by the fairly average film version featuring Winona Ryder as Kaysen. Kaysen tells us she had to undertake legal proceedings to retrieve her file from McLean hospital when she started thinking about her time there and felt compelled to write about it and some of these files and memoranda are included in the book. An office memorandum from the hospital reprinted for the memoir states that Kaysen is suffering from suicidal ideas, an immersion in fantasy and progressive withdrawal and isolation. One of the big questions posed by the book is the validity of the criteria in deciding who is fit for society and who isn't. Could free-spirited unconventional people who don't conform to whatever is loosely perceived to be the norm in a society sometimes be erroneously diagnosed? 'What does borderline personality mean, anyhow?' writes Kaysen. 'It appears to be a way station between neurosis and psychosis: a fractured but not disassembled psyche. Though to quote my post-Melvin psychiatrist: It's what they call people with lifestyles that bother them.'

              The non-linear structure - a sort of Scenes From A Psychiatric Ward if you will - affords us a window into this troubling world and allows us to meet some of the other notable occupants of Kaysen's ward. Chief amongst these is the obstreperous Lisa who Kaysen says still makes her smile whenever she thinks about her now all of these years later. Lisa has a penchant for daring escape attempts but is usually returned again a few days later after disappearing. 'The worst was that she was always caught and dragged back, dirty, with wild eyes that had seen freedom. She would curse her captors and even the tough old-timers had to laugh at the names she made up.' Lisa is the most vivid of the people Kaysen met in the hospital and features in the memoir quite a lot. Although diagnosed as a sociopath and very loud and unpredictable, Kaysen also remembers Lisa as a funny person who kept their spirits up and - stuck with apparently permanent insomnia from her drug-addled past - someone who would slowly calm down and decompress late at night and make hot chocolate for the staff at unearthly hours.

              Stranger and more disturbing than Lisa though are Daisy and Polly. Daisy is a troubled young woman who is periodically dumped in the hospital by her family and has a very odd addiction to roast chicken and laxatives. Her bedroom, which Kaysen is one of the few to ever be allowed to enter, is filled with chicken carcasses with Daisy believing that once she has collected 14 she will be allowed to leave the hospital. 'Daisy was a seasonal event,' writes kaysen. 'She came before Thanksgiving and stayed through Christmas every year. Some years she came for her birthday in May as well.' Polly is a self-inflicted burns victim with scarring on various parts of her body but radiates a calm self-assurance. 'She was never unhappy,' says kaysen of Polly. 'She was kind and comforting to those who were unhappy. She always had time to listen to other people's complaints. Whatever had driven her, whispered Die! in her once-perfect, now-scarred ear, she had immolated it.'

              Kaysen's roommate at McLean, Georgina, is considered, along with Kaysen herself, to be one of the less severe cases and even has a boyfriend of sorts, a patient in the hospital called Wade who lives under the delusion that his father is a deadly and famous CIA operative who undertakes dangerous secret missions in Cuba. Kaysen includes a memorable passage about the day it all went black for Georgina and McLean suddenly loomed large in her immediate future. 'My roommate Georgina came in swiftly and totally, during her junior year at Vassar. She was in a theater watching a movie when a tidal wave of blackness broke over her head. The entire world was obliterated - for a few minutes. She knew she had gone crazy. She looked around the theater to see if it had happened to everyone, but all the other people were engrossed in the movie. She rushed out, because the darkness in the theater was too much when combined with the darkness in her head.'

              The memoir is quite interesting about the psychology of being institutionalised. Kaysen explains how you gradually start to get used to having everything taken care of for you and forget how to do ordinary everyday things like writing a cheque, using a telephone or even locking a door. In an odd way they were free and escapees from the mundane expectations of life. Vicariously, they come to live through the staff and use them as a link to the real world, a place that seems ever more complex and faraway. 'When we looked at the student nurses we saw alternate versions of ourselves. They were living out lives we might have been living, if we hadn't been occupied with being mental patients. They shared apartments and had boyfriends and talked about clothes. We wanted to protect them so that they could go on living these lives. They were our proxies.'

              One thing I found interesting too were Kaysen's musings on the possible motivation for respectable and well-heeled families of the era to shove their dysfunctional children away in one of these places. Kaysen seems to suggest throughout the book that it simply makes them feel better to isolate the troubled one in the family. 'Most families were proving the same proposition: We aren't crazy, SHE is the crazy one. Those families kept paying.' If I had any criticisms of the book the first would be that it's a tad too short at only 167 pages and perhaps a little pretentious on fleeting occasions, especially a two or three page segment on Velocity vs Viscosity ('Paradox. The tortoise and the hare. Achilles and the what? The tortoise? The tendon? The tongue?') where Kaysen seems to be trying too hard to impress. The escapades and foul-mouthed insults of the patients are also perhaps never quite as amusing as Kaysen probably thinks they are. These quibbles aside though, Girl, Interrupted is always fascinating for the glimpse it affords us into this strange secret world and is often a very poignant book as we read about these troubled souls. Overall I would recommend Girl, Interrupted. Although disturbing at times this is an eloquent and very personal memoir that is well worth reading.

              Comments

              Login or register to add comments
                More Comments
              • More +
                19.07.2009 23:48
                Very helpful
                (Rating)

                Advantages

                Disadvantages

                Worth a read if you have limited time

                I was recently told I 'just must see' a film. I immediately asked if there was a book I could read instead. This, is how I can about to read Girl, Interrupted.
                I've read several books that have centred around an individual's struggle with mental health, and I am always fascinated and moved by the hardship people have endured either through stigma, or just battling against their 'inner demons'.
                However, the circumstances in which Susanna came to find herself in the psychiatric hospital is a truly unnerving tale that unfortunately was a very common affair in the '60s and earlier.
                Girl, Interrupted is a very short (only 168 pages) account of an adolescent's time in the infamous McLean Hospital that has homed other notable celebrities such as Sylvia Plath and Ray Charles. It's a harrowing tale that easily encroaches your mind, leaving you contemplating the many issues posed within the narrative.
                If, like me, you love to get engrossed into a very real book, then I highly recommend. However, if you feel you can't manage the 168 pages, the film is also brilliant (I did get round to watching it eventually!) and deserves a watch regardless.

                Comments

                Login or register to add comments
              • More +
                22.02.2009 00:36
                Very helpful
                (Rating)
                12 Comments

                Advantages

                Disadvantages

                Worth reading as a short look at mental illness

                Having watched the film a couple of years ago, I finally got around to reading the book recently. Written by Susanna Kaysen herself, it follows her life in a psychiatric hospital, with accounts of her stay there, and the other people which she encountered.
                It is interrupted itself, with medical notes and hospital records, as well as her own writing about her time there.

                At a mere 169 pages, it is a fast read, but that doesn't make it easy. To be honest, I was anticipating something different having watched the film before reading. Each time an event happened in the book, I compared it to the film which, as good as I think it is, I can now say from reading the book, some things were obviously changed for dramatic effect and I think as this is a memoir, changes for the film were wrong.
                Anyway, back to the book!

                As we follow Susanna throughout her journey in McLean Hospital, where she is treated for depression (although it is later discovered she is treated for something else) she analyses herself and the world around her, looking back at what happened, and how things could be percieved.

                The memoir does not appear to be chronological. We are introduced to Georgina, her roommate, before we discover anything about Susanna herself, and her diagnosis.
                Susanna thinks that after a 20 minute talk with a psychiatrist and being promised a 'rest' she has been sent to McLean for 18 months. Throughout the book she looks back at this. She thinks of the time in which she was with him, and what brought her to the hospital. It is clear that she does not feel she needs to at McLean, and as you hear more about her fellow patients, you may partially agree. It is clear she is less ill than others around her, but still, something appears to be wrong.

                However, throughout the book you can find yourself arguing, along with Kaysen herself, that maybe she doesn't belong there. Maybe her thoughts and feelings are those of a typical teenager, just not given the chance to grow out of them. Fair enough, she took her feelings too far, and there are times in the book where you will start to think maybe she is slightly mad, but could this be the environment she has been put in, along with others with mental issues? It's a question which stays in your mind throughout reading the book, whether or not she belongs there.

                Throughout the book we are introduced to other characters and people that Susanna meets through the institution. We learn about them, their illnesses and how they cope with life inside the hospital. Lisa seems to have a large impact on everyone in the hospital. You could say that Lisa is how people would typically expect psychiatric patients to be - a little too loud, overbearing and impulsive. The whole institution is portrayed in the book as very routine, as they have checks and certain policies which Susanna appears to disagree with, as do the others in the hospital.

                At many points during the book, Susanna seems to ponder mental illness and how it works. She analyses her mental illness, and thinks of how it works and is diagnosed. As she looks at the 'description' of the illness of which she was diagnosed, she considers how much of this really applies to her, and what it is that got her into the hospital.

                This memoir is an interesting read. I find the psychology of things interesting anyway, and mental illness particularly interesting. Even so, it is a short read which will open your eyes to the ways of mental illness in this honest and thought provoking read, and leave you questioning how useful our ways of diagnosis for mental illness actually is. I think it would have been interesting to hear more about her fellow patients diagnosis also, however it is possible that Susanna was not able to go into this. However, it is an interesting look at her experiences of mental illness and a psychiatric hospital.

                Comments

                Login or register to add comments
                  More Comments
                • More +
                  24.01.2009 23:34
                  Very helpful
                  (Rating)
                  7 Comments

                  Advantages

                  Disadvantages

                  An intriguing insight into mental illness

                  'Girl Interrupted' is a fascinating memoir, organised in a chaotic way that reflects Kaysen's life during the period she describes. This slim volume (it just stretches to 169 pages in the 1999 Virago edition) consists of a mixture of vignettes and photocopies of hospital records which simultaneously illuminate and contrast each other to give the reader an impression of a fragmented and occasionally nightmarish stay in a psychiatric hospital. Kaysen's history is fairly famous since the 1999 film of the same name starring Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder but the book is worth reading for its precise and strangely absorbing accounts of life in a 'parallel universe'.

                  Kaysen's written style is simple, precise and evocative. Short chapters focus on key incidents, characters and reflections in an almost poetic and often darkly humorous manner. The vignettes are not organised chronologically, although they do begin by describing Kaysen's memory of the interview that resulted in her hospitalisation. Throughout the book Kaysen refers back to this episode, which she feels convinced consisted of a twenty minute interview and a promise of rest, but which resulted in an eighteen month stay in the McLean Hospital. Her half-hearted suicide attempt she describes as an attempt to kill the part of her who wanted to kill herself, and it is clear that she does not feel she needed to be institutionalised. The doctor comes across as patronising and overly analytical, imbuing a simple physical act Kaysen commits with undue psychological significance. It is clear that Kaysen accepted her committal, waiting for the taxi and signing herself in at the hospital, but the imperfections in the systems of 1967 that allowed her to be incarcerated after such a brief examination are also highlighted and encourage the reader to question the professionals' judgements.

                  As the memoir progresses, the reader is introduced to a range of characters with brief summaries of their condition, progress and methods of coping with institutional life. The sense of time dragging on endlessly is captured perfectly in the monotony of 'checks' and cigarettes, watching and waiting, meds and curse words. Often we are given a focused account of a key incident from their incarceration. The characters are interesting and well-realised, although their histories, and often their futures, are under-developed, which leaves the reader wondering what really happened to them.

                  Kaysen's history outside the hospital is also often unclear. She gets married and the marriage fails, but due to the unconnected nature of the book and the focus on the actual time spent in the institution, her relationships with her parents and her husband are sketchy, their characters absent from what is essentially an exploration of her history. This has frustrated some readers but it does not detract from the powerful nature of the central issues the book explores.

                  The photocopies of hospital records which are interspersed throughout the book emphasise the clinical manner in which a very personal struggle was treated by the nurses and doctors. Although Kaysen is only occasionally explicitly critical of specific professionals, the whole system appears to be set up to follow routines, rules and drug programmes rather than to cure patients. As Kaysen's account veers between episodes it becomes apparent that being in hospital did not help her, except by giving her some respite from responding to people in the outside world. It did, however, encourage her to question her diagnosis as she clearly feels she is in a different category to inmates who receive shock-therapy or rub their faeces on their walls and bodies.

                  As the book draws to a close, Kaysen begins to consider the differences between 'mind' and 'brain' and between 'mental illness' and 'difference', questioning whether she really met the criteria of the personality disorder she was diagnosed with - and whether those criteria are just. This is perhaps the most interesting part of the book as the reader is drawn into these questions and inspired to consider how fine that line between sanity and reality can be.

                  Overall, this is a powerful and fascinating read which raises important issues. It is not to be confused with a self help guide as there is not great recovery scheme or advice, merely a sense that Kaysen was never really crazy, simply interrupted in the death throes of adolescence.

                  Comments

                  Login or register to add comments
                  • More +
                    07.07.2008 21:53

                    Advantages

                    Disadvantages

                    A great memoir from an inspirational woman

                    Girl Interrupted was another book I read after watching the film. I loved this book, it was a refreshingly honest look at mental illness. Susanna Kaysen, tells her story beautifully and gives us an in depth description of what she and the other patients are going through.

                    In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she'd never seen before, eighteen year old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to Mclean Hospital to be treated for depression. She spent most of the the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in the psychiatric hospital renowned for its famous cliente- Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton and Ray Charles.

                    This book is fascinating, and is a book that once you start you will find hard to put down. Susanna Kaysen looks at not only her imperfections but the other patients, nurses and the system that diagnosed her.

                    Comments

                    Login or register to add comments
                  • More +
                    30.12.2007 21:12
                    Very helpful
                    (Rating)
                    11 Comments

                    Advantages

                    Disadvantages

                    Life in a mental hospital

                    In 1967 Suzanna Kaysen walked into the office of a psychiatrist who suggested she needed a rest; two hours later she was in a ward at the famous Mclean Hospital (host to Ray Charles and Sylvia Plath amongst others) where she stayed for the next eighteen months. She was just 18 and the reasons for her incarceration seem inexplicable to those of us reading the book forty years later, but this is her autobiographical attempt to come to terms with her experiences and make sense of her treatment.

                    I feel duty bound to first mention the length of this book; being only 168 pages long and divided into short chapters interspersed with blank pages and items from Kaysen's case file. It took me less than an hour to read through and I did have a slight feeling of 'was that it' when I got to the last page. The book begins with that key psychiatrists interview and ends when she leaves the asylum, but as she makes sense of her internment and 'illness' we learn about her life before she was committed and why her parents had been concerned enough to pay the extremely high costs of the hospital to keep her in there. Her language is oddly philosophical, musing about the nature of life and talking almost blandly of her fellow patients; who include a girl who hasn't slept for two years and another who set herself on fire, and hospital life. Some turns of phrase and the events she has chosen to focus on feel strange and off-balance, this is not the usual run of the mill autobiography; it is as if the twisted reality of the asylum has seeped out onto the page. Kaysen slips from matter of fact accounts of day to day life to a disjointed series of strange little sentences about bones or her tongue, from normality to the ramblings of a confused and depressed teenager. On top of this there is discussion about the perceived nature and stigmatism of "madness" and how girls and women can be affected and treated. A lot to fit into 168 pages!

                    The case notes reproduced throughout the book are fascinating illustrations of how life is lived in a psychiatric hospital and how detached from reality and normality both staff and patients can become. Kaysen has also reproduced her admission notes from the psychiatrist who had her committed and compares her own experiences with those of the authorities who kept her under treatment for 18 months. Reading the notes (father "afraid she might kill herself or get pregnant", "reversal of sleep cycle", "promiscuous") and her supposed disorders, I couldn't help but ponder how she would be treated nowadays; certainly much of her 'disorder' could be put down to teenage angst/rebellion combined with depression and unrealistic expectations. Kaysen is starkly honest about the failed and successful suicide attempts of both herself and other patients, their states of mind and why they failed which was shocking to me and something I was not prepared for. I spent much of the book trying to work out the extent of her disturbance and intrigued myself with questioning how much of her behaviour resulted from being locked away from the world and 'normality'. Her treatment by the authorities certainly seems unfair and unjust, but it is also clear that she comes across as quite a depressed and often emotionally disturbed individual who is struggling with life and society in the 1960's.Whilst this is no reason to lock her up for 18 months, in the context of the 1960's when the study and treatment of mental illness was just moving on from lobotomies and electric shock treatment, Kaysen must have presented as a prime candidate for hospitalisation. It is a definite reminder of how much our society has moved on and become more accepting of mental illness and less restrictive of what constitutes normality.

                    I found this an interesting addition to my library and another perspective on the methods and attitudes of 40 years ago, both towards the mentally ill and those who don't quite fit. At times the book brought tears to my eyes, there are some truly heartbreaking moments and some very strange and upsetting incidents, but these events are tempered by Kaysen's honesty and bravery not just at the time but also in sharing her experiences in such a public way. It is quite a brutal book, it certainly pulls no punches and her observations of fellow patients and hospital staff reflect the strange chaos of a psychiatric ward. To my surprise there are also some genuinely funny moments which made me laugh out loud, all the more so because they are often sandwiched between moments of pain or human tragedy. Sadly we don't get to know very much about Kaysen's life before McLean, only in the ways it impacted her mental health, but we know much about what happened after she left McLean and any long term effects of her stay. Kaysen's resentment spills out in the final part of the book in adissection of her diagnosis and attack on the society that allowed this to happen; something which was extremely uncomfortable for me to read as it documents certain self-destructive and self-harming behaviours Kaysen demonstrated as a teen. The last few pages came across as a self-pitying, self obsessed description of her life after the asylum that I gritted my teeth and skim read for the good of the review, so I hope you all appreciate it!

                    I would recommend 'Girl, Interrupted' to anyone who has an interest in the subject of mental illness and treatment, but also to those who enjoy slightly surreal autobiographical writings. Just a shame its not longer!

                    ***Price and ISBN***

                    There are many different versions of this book usually retailing at around £6.99

                    The edition released after the film was made (which has little in common with the book if I remember correctly) is : 1860497926 and Amazon.co.uk has it for £5.49. Marketplace offers on other versions start at around 73p.

                    Comments

                    Login or register to add comments
                      More Comments
                  • Product Details

                    Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted is the autobiographical story of the author's time in a psychiatric award in 1967. Sylvia Plath was a patient at the same hospital in the early 1950s so inevitably comparisons have been made between Plath's The Bell Jar and Kaysen's novel--both recounting a young woman's descent into insanity. This, however, is where the similarities end--The Bell Jar is a haunting and lyrical book; Girl, Interrupted is a more hard-edged, documentary-style narrative. It has none of the beauty and poetry of Plath's prose and is more akin to Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation , an up-to-date memoir of a young girl's struggle with depression and drugs. Both these books offer a brutal and stark image of a life of mental illness.