Thursday, December 8, 2011

Girl, Interrupted

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen is a memoir of the almost two years Kaysen spent at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Belmont, Massachusetts.  A short read, the book is set up more like a series of vignettes than as a straight read, as the chapters are not really set up in any particular chronological order.  It feels a little disjointed at times, disorganized in an organized way, which I think is fitting for a memoir about mental illness.  She also includes some scanned pages from her hospital files.  As this is a memoir, the people and events in the book are of course true, but names and some identifying characteristics have been changed for the book.

Maybe this is telling of me, but I really love this book.  I loved it the first time I read it, and I loved it again in re-reading.  I've gone through multiple periods of depression myself, and I think a lot of people have moments in their lives where they wonder if they are going crazy.  I know I have those moments.  Sometimes when I'm feeling that way, I like to revisit books like this - in part to remind myself that other people have gone through similar rough times, so I'm not as alone as I might feel.  Also partly to reassure myself that things could probably be worse, and at least I haven't gone so far off the edge that I've needed "a rest."

Kaysen initially was admitted to McLean for treatment of depression, but ended up being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and some of the files that have been scanned into the book are quite interesting to look at.  Academically, there is a lot more known about mental illness now than there was while Kaysen was being treated at McLean, but there are still a lot of common misconceptions, and that makes me feel like at least some of the stigma still exists against this type of thing.  That's one of the reasons I think I like this book so much; Kaysen and the other in-patients she talks about don't really conjure up images of men in white coats, straitjackets and padded walls - they're in the moderate security ward.  They don't seem necessarily crazy, for the most part, and I found myself really caring about them.  We do get a glimpse of the maximum security ward, and it's hard for me to really imagine what that must have been like.  I also wonder how much has changed about the hospital itself with regards to how the wards are set up.  I wonder if they still use the tunnels.

Parts of this book, if you couldn't tell already, really resonated with me, and I think that's why it's become a sort of odd comfort book.  It's not some light, fun, happily-ever-after story - parts of it are disturbing, especially when you remember these are true events and actual people.  I like the movie adaptation that was made in 1999, starring Winona Ryder as Kaysen - but even though the book is short, the film did leave some things out and changed others.  So if you've only seen the movie, I'd recommend giving the book a try as well.  



Turtle Bay (Random House)

Film Adaptations:
Girl, Interrupted

See what others are saying about it, or buy it now:
Better World Books

1 comment:

  1. Wow! This sounds great. I have a weird thing for books about mental illness, I think they're fascinating.

    I've heard of it before but only vaguely, so I didn't really know what it was about. I'll definitely be adding it to my wishlist now though.