Posts Tagged With: depression

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


The Bell Jar tells the story of a gifted young woman’s mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. The real Plath committed suicide in 1963 and left behind this scathingly sad, honest and perfectly-written book, which remains one of the best-told tales of a woman’s descent into insanity.

I chose to read this book because it is on the Rory Gilmore Reading List. I wasn’t sure what to expect as this is a hard subject to sensitively write about. However, I think Sylvia Plath did a super job. Of course, that might be because she did really commit suicide.

The book is about Esther, a girl who moves to New York to work as a junior editor at a magazine. She experiences all sorts in New York, from the realisation that not all men are nice, to extreme food poisoning, by someone set on killing the magazine staff. Her downward spiral starts here, but gets worse when she moves home and can’t get a job. She is stuck at home, sharing a bedroom with her always-pleasant mother. It is here that Esther has her breakdown, and tries to kill herself. The result is her ending up in hospital, where she experiences shock-therapy and has to cope with the death of people she knows.

This book is enjoyable – if that is the right word. It is unsettling, and will haunt me for a long time I think. There are some images which will be hard to erase, but that does not spoil the book. It is not an easy topic to read but it is well written and I found myself wanting to keep reading more, to find out what happened.

Esther was a character I found myself liking, and I didn’t like watching her slip down the road of depression and suicide. I really wanted her to be OK. There were aspects of her situation I found myself relating to, and a few years ago I would not have been able to read this book. I wasn’t bothered by the other characters – it was all about Esther and what happened to her for me.

This is a very sensitive issue and I would approach this book with caution if mental health issues are close to you. That said, in my current mindset I enjoyed this book.


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Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard



Rose Leonard is on the run from her life. Taking refuge in a remote island community, she cocoons herself in work, silence and solitude in a house by the sea. But she is haunted by her past, by memories and desires she’d hoped were long dead. Rose must decide whether she has in fact chosen a new life or just a different kind of death. Life and love are offered by new friends, her lonely daughter, and most of all Calum, a fragile younger man who has his own demons to exorcise. But does Rose, with her tenuous hold on life and sanity, have the courage to say yes to life and put her past behind her?

A unique book in many ways. Gillard deals with death, bi-polar mental illness and love in middle-age people. Well, I loved it. I could not put it down. Gillard is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. I really enjoy her writing style; she is so imaginative and the way she describes landscapes and feelings is magical. I could picture what was being described, and she wrote so well I now long to go there and discover the island for myself. I also appreciated the map in the front of the book and the little bit of information about the island. They helped with the reading immensely.

Once again, the characters were just fantastic. Rose, who suffers with manic depression is dealt with sensitively and informatively. Calum, well he was a character I fell for. Even with his own troubles he was there for Rose. What a man. And my favourite, his sister Shona. She seemed delightful.

I have finished this book feeling satisfied. This is more than chick-lit, where the protagonist falls in love, this is a story of depth, of healing, death and illness, and it was beautiful. A part of me wishes it hadn’t finished and I know I will invest in my own copy of this book, and indeed Gillard’s other novels, as all have had an effect on me, and all I will want to read, and read again.

I can only praise this book and encourage others to read it too.


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Through the Dark Woods by Joanna Swinney


Synopsis from Amazon:

This book is based on the author’s own experience of wrestling with depression, and her story carries the book along. Using this structure, she discusses the stigma associated with depression. She talks of the importance of correct diagnosis, and the challenges of day to day survival. She takes an honest look at the temptation to suicide, and how depression affects one’s prayer life and relationship to God. Where are the sources of comfort and healing? Jo Swinney considers biblical characters subject to depression, and argues for the importance of sharing stories. Finally she asks, what does her depression teach her?

As someone who battles with depression I was given this book by a friend to help me, and I will certainly be passing it on to others, especially those who have never suffered with depression. This is a really useful book about depression, based around Swinney’s own experience. She is honest and writes in a fluid way which is easy to follow and understand. All the chapters are short and easily accessible. She explains depression and the different ways it can affect people, and she gives tips on how to cope and how to battle out of it.

What I found most helpful was seeing how I feel in writing, but written by someone else. I will be passing this book so people can gain an insight into how I feel a lot of the time. I also liked how she recommened books, books on depression and fiction books!

Swinney is a Christian, and she does talk about God and her depression, and some focus of the book is on relationship with God, but don’t let that put you off. There is no preaching and it is not overwhelming at all. As a Christian I found it useful, but not overbearing at all.

This is a really useful book and I recommend it to everyone, people who have suffered and those who haven’t.


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Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood

This was on my reading list for university, and I am glad I picked it.


In Hanky Park, near Salford, Harry and Sally Hardcastle grow up in a society preoccupied with grinding poverty, exploited by bookies and pawnbroker, bullied by petty officials and living in constant fear of the dole queue and the Means Test. His love affair with a local girl ends in a shotgun marriage, and, disowned by his family, Harry is tempted by crime. Sally, meanwhile, falls in love with Larry Meath, a self-educated Marxist. But Larry is a sick man and there are other more powerful rivals for her affection. The definitive deception of a northern town in the midst of the thirties’ depression. Walter Greenwood’s “Love on the Dole” was the first novel to be set against a background of mass unemployment and was instantly recognised as a classic when it was first published in 1933. Raw, violent and powerful, it was a cry of outrage that stirred the national conscience in the same way as the Jarrow march.

This is a very graphic look at life in the Industrial North in the 1930s. This was a time where Britain was suffering in the Depression with unemployment, the dole and Means Testing, poverty, poor living conditions and very little money. Love on the Dole is a great depiction of this; written in the ’30s, Greenwood holds nothing back. We see unemployment, the new role of women, leisure activities, poverty, humiliation and love. This has set an accurate image in my mind of the 1930s.

I liked the character of Sally, she was a headstrong, independent girl who knew what she wanted, which was a new identity for women. She was pursued by many men, two of whom I despised! This pleases me because it means I made a strong connection with the book.

Harry on the other hand, he annoyed me some what. He sulked and whinged a lot, however this is probably quite an accurate portrayal of the effect the Depression had on ordinary people.

I enjoyed this novel. It was a good story as well as an excellent historical source.


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Nice Girls Don’t Change the World by Lynne Hybels

This is a small, easy to read book by Lynne Hybels, a lady who is involved in Christian ministry alongside her husband Bill. This is the first Lynne Hybels book I have read, and I found it helpful and interesting.

Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” My version of that quote is: “Never doubt that a community of thoughtful, committed women, filled with the power and love of God, using gifts they have identified and developed, and pursuing passions planted in them by God – never doubt that these women can change the world.” – Lynne Hybels. Nice Girls are taught early that serving God means earning God’s love and sacrificing oneself to meet the needs of others. Unfortunately, after living a life she thought was what God demanded, her husband wanted, her kids needed, and her church expected, Lynne Hybels felt utterly lost – both to herself and to God. In this wise and tender book, Hybels tells of her struggle to stop living someone else’s life and to reclaim the unique gifts, strengths, and passions God gave her. And she reveals how turning away from her false view of God as a harsh and demanding taskmaster enabled her to rest at last in God’s sustaining love. As she explains, it’s never too late to discover that who you really are is exactly what delights God and what the world needs.

This book is only 96 pages long and has many pictures in it, however this was not a distract, it just added to the pleasantness of the book. Hybels is honest about her life, her old image of God and her depression. This was very refreshing. She is someone who is involved in a big world-wide ministry yet she has experienced horrible emotions just like me. It was nice to know I’m not alone, even women God uses all over the world can suffer too. It was inspiring to read about how she pulled herself out of her depression and how God is now using her.

Hybels teaches about how we have a loving God, not one who is grumpy and looking for perfection. We have a God who loves us as we are and looks after us if we let Him. When God broke through Lynne’s barriers I had a tear in my eye and hope in my heart. She teaches how we must conquer fear, take a step out and be all we can be. We are unique, loved by God and can be dangerous, strong, world changing women.

I found this book easy to read, with a positive message and feel affected by her writing. I now want to go out and be all I can be. Look out world, here I come, full of God’s love, glory and grace.


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Notes From An Exhibition by Patrick Gale

Notes From An Exhibition synopsis from Amazon:

Renowned Canadian artist Rachel Kelly — now of Penzance — has buried her past and married a gentle and loving Cornish man. Her life has been a sacrifice to both her extraordinary art and her debilitating manic depression. When troubled artist Rachel Kelly dies painting obsessively in her attic studio in Penzance, her saintly husband and adult children have more than the usual mess to clear up. She leaves behind an extraordinary and acclaimed body of work — but she also leaves a legacy of secrets and emotional damage it will take months to unravel. A wondrous, monstrous creature, she exerts a power that outlives her. To her children she is both curse and blessing, though they all in one way or another reap her whirlwind, inheriting her waywardness, her power of loving — and her demons. Only their father’s Quaker gifts of stillness and resilience give them any chance of withstanding her destructive influence and the suspicion that they came a poor second to the creation of her art.The reader becomes a detective, piecing together the clues of a life — as artist, lover, mother, wife and patient — which takes them from contemporary Penzance to 1960s Toronto to St Ives in the 1970s. What emerges is a story of enduring love, and of a family which weathers tragedy, mental illness and the intolerable strain of living with genius. Patrick Gale’s latest novel shines with intelligence, humour and tenderness.

What a lovely book. Only 374 pages, and well worth the read.

Throughout the book, Gale deals with the issues of the illness of bipolar, death, faith and family. His description of the art work was beautiful and I could easily picture the work. He began each chapter with a descriptive plaque like you would find beside an artefact in a museum, which helped connect you to Rachel Kelly.

I loved the character of Antony, how he took in Rachel and looked after her, and gave her a family. He seemed the strong, silent type and I just adored him.

As someone who is intimate with depression I found Gale wrote extremely sensitively and well. The story was not in chronological order however and did jump between characters and times. I liked the story that unfolded however and the twists and turns that came with it.

However, I have found myself wanting more. I would have liked more character depth and to learn consequences of actions that we read about.

Overall, this was a good book, I recommend it!


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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


“They don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us” says Maudie Atkinson, one of the ladies of Maycombe referring to Mockingbirds. The symbol of the Mockingbird is repeated through out the book and is significant within the stories as a bench mark for people’s actions. Harper Lee explained in later years that the book is about the moral standards of the period (1930’s Depression), and that it carries the message of tolerance and respect across several themes.

Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird soared to dizzy heights almost immediately and has become, it is said, the most popular book after the Bible. However, it has been challenged on occasions, some quite recently as people sometimes feel the language is out dated and often derogatory, for example the word “nigger”, which is used frequently throughout the book. However, in English speaking countries the book is often on the school curriculum and is as popular as ever, as it embraces several themes which never go out of date. It is interesting to note that the similarities between the people and events in the book and Lee’s own life are more than coincidence. It is partly auto-biographical.e

Set in Maycombe, a fictional town in Alabama, the story is told by Jean Louise Finch (known as Scout) who is the six year old daughter of the local attorney at law, Atticus Finch. She and her brother Jem, who is four years older, live with their widowed father. Later in the book, their aunt comes to live with them in an effort to train tomboy Scout to become more ladylike. The first part of the book sets the scene and concentrates on the childrens’ lives. Scout starts school and another boy, Dill, spends the summer in Maycomb and becomes firm friends with Scout and Jem. Scout tells us about all the residents of the town, giving wonderful descriptions of their personalities, a mixture of her family’s opinions and her own understanding, (or misunderstanding) of them. This combination of child innocence and adult experience leads to clashes at times, but it serves to show how Scout thinks about things, and resolves them in her own way. As a consequence we follow her, and Jem as they mature and embrace the ideologies of their father. They frequently misjudge people and then are forced to reaccess their opinions. During this time, all three develop a fascination for a neighbour who is known as a recluse. They try to coax him to come out of his house, and dare each other to knock on his door until Atticus puts a stop to it. Meanwhile, the man in question, Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley is suspected of leaving them little gifts in the trunk of a tree outside his home.
In the second half of the book, things begin to get more active. Atticus is asked to represent a local black man who is accused of raping a white girl. The repercussions of this affect Scout and Jem who are suddenly catapulted out of their comfortable existence and shown a side of the folk in the town that they had not realised existed before. They are uncomfortable with the events that take place and each becomes more and more stressed in their efforts to account for peoples’ behaviour.When the man accused of rape, Tom Robinson, is found guilty Jem is very upset and the children are incredulous. The father of the girl who alleged rape, Bob Ewell said he would get his own back on those who had supported Tom. Since he was drunk most of the time, few believed him, until he tried to get into the Judges house. He also intimidated the widow of the innocent man, who was now dead as he had tried to escape from the prison and been shot.He spat in Atticus’ face too, but none of these actions indicated his last deed, which was trying to kill Jem and Scout as they walked home from the school pageant one night. Rather neatly, they were rescued by the elusive Boo Radley and Mr Ewell was found stabbed to death.

I found the book easy to read, although I sometimes found Scout’s trail of thought somewhat erratic at times, but the first part of the book was so slow and didn’t seem to be leading anywhere. I became a little bored and only continued as I knew the book was so well regarded. Even though the second part moves more quickly with the trial, I still thought it a bit slow, the only real action happening near the end.However, the book has several themes which interweave, some more easily appreciated after reading has finished. There is the morality theme, the class theme, the race theme, and the bildungsroman…that is, following the young protagonist and her brother from childhood to a sort of maturity, (albeit over only three years), but they do grow in emotional and psychological ways and this occurs as a theme throughout. Each of the themes is well illustrated with examples during the story, but although I was aware of some of them as I read, it was when I had finished the book that I really appreciated how cleverly interlocked they were.

The characters were written with great insight. Scout is a wonderful little girl, asking all the questions of a bright and curious child, and very capable of standing up for herself. Jem’s behaviour is just as thoughtful, but more measured and he is a wonderful protector of his sister. Their father is the moral role model of the story, quietly intelligent, very tolerant, reasoning with his children and teaching them that life is not just black and white. Aunt Alexandra, Atticus’ sister, is very class orientated, and Scout feels that her aunt dislikes her, but is again made to realise that you should not make assumptions. All the characters come across as very real and fresh, even the ladies of the town who are portrayed as biggoted and shallow, yet warm and human too. Lee never gives the impression that she is judging or criticising.

My final impression was that it is a really good book and deserves the accolades. It is one of those books that I think may require reading at least twice, so that you can appreciate all the bits of the jigsaw and make connections. I did enjoy my read but still have a faint feeling of disappointment. I think I am still concerned that the first part of the book was so slow. Perhaps it will take a few days to take full account of everything.

Meanwhile, Harper Lee met President Bush on November the 5th 2007 when he awarded her with the presidential medal of freedom for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.





Photgraphs: Top: ‘Mocking me’ by Scott Robinson

Bottom: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Nenad Stevanovic

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