Jan 17, 2013

The Camera My Mother Gave Me

by Susanna Kaysen

This book has sat on my shelf for ages. I picked it up because I did so like her earlier memoir Girl, Interrupted.

It's quite unlike anything I've ever read. It was a book I could not put down- I don't have a lot of spare time to read anymore but found myself making time, even if it was in fragments here and there, to read this. Kaysen has a voice I really love- frank, honest, directly to the point, often makes me laugh but sympathize and feel acute sorrow as well. Her story is one I don't think often gets told. She narrates the turmoil her life becomes when she is suddenly stricken with chronic pain, in the most private region of her body. Doctors can't explain it, myriad treatments fail to work. She consults her friends (a very informed group), reads medical journals, visits specialists and alternative clinics and has a terrible time with her boyfriend. The relationship goes sour very quickly when intimacy becomes painful for her. She even starts to question if it's all just psychological.

I was riveted to this story. It's refreshing to read something so honest dealing with an aspect of a woman's life that most people don't even talk about. The details were vivid, but not too much for me. She's very good at cutting to the quick of things. I have to say I am really glad I read this, because it made me recognize some things about my own life. Although I've not had the same medical condition, I'd read conversations in the book between her and her boyfriend and then sit there in shock, staring at the page. The words echoed exactly some things that my husb and I said to each other, many times. I recognized immediately the wrongness of it when in a story; why did it take me so long to recognize it in my own situation? It made me realize that for a long time things were not right between us and it is probably a good thing that we are apart now.

So now you know more about me than you probably did before, because of this book.

I must note a lot of other reviews I saw online complain about this book: it's all Kaysen whining about her pain, talking about her vagina. Well yeah, that's what the book is about. And I think if you had constant pain so bad it hurt to simply sit on the sofa, to drive a car, to put on a pair of jeans, you'd be preoccupied with it too...

It's really good. Go read it, if you're not too squeamish about women's health issues and some frank discussions of intimacy. Be ready for a few good laughs as well.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 158 pages, 2001

more opinions:
"down there"
Life Under a Rock


bermudaonion said...

That sounds like a very personal book. Kudos to the author for writing about it. I hope she found relief for her pain.

Jeane said...

Things had gotten better by the end of the book, manageable but not cured. It sounded very frustrating, actually.

Janet said...

I appreciated your review -- the comments about the book, and the honesty.

It sounds like it would be a difficult book to read, but sometimes the compelling ones are that way.

Eva said...

This sounds like an excellent book & I've added it to my tbr list.

I'm sorry to hear about your personal difficulties but I'm glad the book helped. I've had a couple books in my life that, through speaking openly about usually secret tragedies, helped me a lot.

On a more cheerful note, I'm going to be going through your archives to get inspiration for more gardening reads! :)

Jenny said...

Wow, I never knew she had written another book. I liked Girl Interrupted a lot, and it would be interesting to know what happened to her later in her life. Can I ask if they ever found out what was causing the pain?

Jeane said...

Janet- At some points it was really a difficult read, I had to put it down and walk away. But never for long- it was that compelling.

Eva- I did not expect, when I started reading it with curiosity, that this book would touch me personally but it did. I hope you find some good gardening reads! There's quite a lot in my archives.

Jenny- There were some pretty solid theories as to the cause, but no really effective treatment found.

Chris Howard said...

Wow…this sounds amazing!! I'm going to have to get my hands on this one!

Jeane said...

I hope you can find a copy, Chris! I don't remember where I picked mine up.