Girl, Interrupted (Review)

December 8, 2010

Book cover for "Girl, Interrupted" by Susanna Kaysen.Title: Girl, Interrupted

Author: Susanna Kaysen

Publication Year: 1993

Pages: 192

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Source: Sent to me from Carly during the Book Read ‘Round the World exchange

From the cover:

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.  She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele — Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles — as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary.

Kaysen’s memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a “parallel universe” set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties. Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.

Even though Girl, Interrupted is one of my favourite movies, I somehow never realized that it was based on a true story. Imagine my surprise when I opened up the copy that Carly sent me and saw that it was a memoir!

The narrative of Kaysen’s memoir is much less linear than that of the film – the story is told in an episodic manner, as well as including copies of medical records and bits of other things like song lyrics. At times, I found it a bit hard to follow since I had to “place” episodes in relation to other bits of the narrative, but ultimately it worked out.

What I found particularly interesting about Girl, Interrupted was the way that it looked at mental illness from inside someone with mental illness, rather than from the outside. It was enlightening to understand a little bit of Kaysen’s experience and how she saw things, including the relationships and interactions that she had with the people around her.

It was sort of like reading a stream of consciousness piece – the reader just went along for the ride wherever Kaysen decided to take you. It had moments where it felt even more ethereal than others – when the “action” seemed even farther away from the eyes of the reader. It just made it feel more real, though, because it made you think about the narrative as a collection of memories, rather than as someone telling you what was happening as it happened.

Ultimately, I really liked Girl, Interrupted, even if I haven’t managed to get that across very well here. If you enjoyed the film – or if you’re interested in mental health or institutionalized care – you will probably enjoy it, too.

Rating:

6 Comments

  • Jeane December 9, 2010 at 7:37 am

    I read the book first and liked it so much more than the movie.

  • Brenna December 8, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    I really enjoyed this movie and like you, had no idea it was based on a memoir. I’m going to keep my eye out for this one. It sounds like it’s worth the read.

  • Anna December 9, 2010 at 8:01 am

    I think it’s a hard book to explain, but you’ve done a good job! You’ve made me want to re-read it. An ex-boyfriend bought me my copy, telling me it was a book that reminded him of me. Let’s just say the relationship didn’t last too long after I opened the book and read what it was about. LOL!

  • Teacher/Learner December 9, 2010 at 10:35 am

    I also love the movie but didn’t particularly like the book. Some parts were interesting but the style bothered me. It was too muddled. I haven’t written a review yet but since you brought it up, I should get on that…

  • Amy December 9, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    This sounds really interesting. I haven’t seen the movie, so the fact that you enjoy both is a good sign I think!

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