Oct 3, 2018

Girl, Interrupted

by Susanna Kaysen

Please be aware of spoilers below.

I first read this story about mental health a long time ago. Prompted to revisit it because honestly, I saw a copy in my teen's stack from the library and I wondered what she would find there. I couldn't recall the book clearly myself. Poking around online didn't help- the only detailed info I could locate pointed out things about the film, not the book- which apparently added more shock value to the story. I haven't seen the movie. But from several online reviews, seems like it has quite a bit of sex and scenes of death- from suicide. I can tell you, having just finished the book- there is no actual sex in it. The characters talk about it: one time they have a discussion about blow jobs (the taste) and another time speculate if they had a boyfriend visiting, could they manage to "do it" between nurse checks (fifteen or ten-minute increments). Kaysen herself mentions that she went out with a teacher one time, and he kissed her- but in a therapy session she lets the doctor believe they slept together, and apparently the film carried that idea further. As for the suicide- well, it is discussed a lot in the story- the author constantly thought about it, and one time they hear that a former patient committed suicide after going home. That's it. In case you want to know!

What is it mostly about? How the author found herself in a mental hospital as a teen, after what seemed to her a very brief interview with a psychiatrist. She was moody, she practiced self-harm, her perception of time had serious lapses, she struggled with uncontrollable thoughts that looped and spiraled downwards- but really, she wondered what she was doing there. She tells about the other young women on the ward with her- most of them seem to have more serious issues than herself, until the day she starts to wonder- frantically- if she has substance, if there are bones beneath her own skin- and injures herself in a quest to find out. I think that was the most disturbing thing to read about. On the whole, I found it to be bluntly honest, frankly questioning, a bit snarky at times. The writing is also very lyrical and refreshing at times, and once again I really enjoyed her voice.

I was surprised how much of this reminded me of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Not the symptoms, but the atmosphere. Kaysen's memoir is placed during the late sixties- cold packs, electric shock and isolation were still common treatments. The feel of the ward is so similar- sitting in the hall outside the nurse station, waiting to make it back outside- or not. On a side note, she managed years later, to get hold of the records from the hospital, and reprinted some of the pages in the book- showing what the nurses and doctors had written about her, what their actual diagnosis was. Comparing that to the inner thoughts she shares about her time spent there, is interesting and puts some perspective on things. Kaysen is discharged after two years, able to hold a job and maintain a relationship, but still often questioning herself- wondering am I sane? are you?

Rating: 4/5             169 pages, 1993

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Reading Through Life


bermudaonion said...

This sounds like a great book to discuss. I think I might have a copy - I need to look for it.

Jeane said...

It really does have a lot of thoughtful points- a good read, in spite of some disturbing scenes.