Posts Tagged With: mental illness

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Date of Publication: 1993, Vintage Books

Number of Pages: 169

Synopsis (from back 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.

Review: First, be warned: this is nothing like the movie. Some of the characters are the same, but this book does not follow the same linear, safe direction as the film. Most of the events of the movie don’t even take place in the book. This is a memoir of the truest sense, in that the author explores simply her own understandings of her experience, her illness, and her surroundings. Kaysen’s diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, although not discussed until the final chapters, is the overall theme of this book. Kaysen, like many of her fellow patients, is straddling the line between sanity and insanity, between the world outside the hospital and the world inside. She identifies with both the other patients and the nurses, who each represent the world they inhabit. Even though she feels a kinship with her fellow “insane” patients, she also longs for the sense of normalcy that the nurses bring in from the outside.

Although she is declared “recovered” upon her discharge in 1969, Kaysen freely admits that once you’re insane, that other world never really disappears. It hovers around the edges, and even affects people who have never been inside a hospital, as if she carries a “crazy cloud” around with her. Kaysen explores the difference between insanity of the brain and insanity of the mind, arguing that each need to be treated differently. She also includes actual documents from her medical records from her time at the hospital, which provide an interesting backdrop for the narrative of the so-called “insane” person. This isn’t The Bell Jar. There is no real mental breakdown, no literary examination of one’s own insanity. Although Kaysen does explore her own illness to a degree, this is mostly an exploration of the dual worlds that mentally ill people must inhabit: the world of the sane, and the world of the insane.

Rating: 8/10

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Speaking of Love by Angela Young

speaking of love

Synopsis from Beautiful Books:

When human beings don’t talk about love, things go wrong.

If a mother had told her daughter that she loved her, they might not have spent years apart. If a man had found the courage to tell a woman that he loved her she might never have married another man. And if a father had told his daughter that he loved her when her mother died, she might not have suffered the breakdown that caused the rift with her own daughter.

But if you are born into a family that never talks about love, how do you learn to say the words?

SPEAKING of LOVE is a novel about what happens when people who love each other don’t say so. It deals passionately and honestly with human breakdown. And it tells of our need for stories and how stories can help make sense of the random nature of life.

This is Young’s first novel, and in my opinion it is a success. The book follows three people: Iris, Vivie and Matthew. Iris is Vivie’s mother and suffers from mental health issues and suffers a devastating break down. Vivie is only young when this happens and it emotionally scars to the point she feels like her life is collapsing around her. Matthew is a few years older than Vivie and they grew up as next door neighbours. Matthew is in love with Vivie but cannot tells her how he feels. In fact, none of them can voice their feelings; leading to heartbreak and separation. But in a special twist of fate, a storytelling event where Iris is speaking brings all of them together…will feelings be voiced and hurts mended?

This was a beautiful book. It took a little while to get going, and to be honest I did think about stopping reading it; however I am so glad I pushed on. As the story unfolds it is gripping and real. I would not class this as chick-lit or romance fiction because the main theme alongside love is mental health. Most of the consequences in the book arise from Iris’ illness and Young honestly explores therepercussion of being so ill and having a breakdown.

One aspect I really enjoyed was the fact Iris was a story teller. Not just that but some of her stories are published in the book, and they were lovely to read.

The book flits between Iris, Vivie and Matthew; and it flows easily between the three. Alongside that, they all slip into memories gracefully and this explains how they were feeling, recalls events that changed their lives and gives an insight into Iris’ illness.

This is not a fast read, however it is a wonderful book and I recommend it for everyone.


Published by: Beautiful Books

RRP: £7.99

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Poisoned Love by Melanie Cane

Date of Publication: 2008, Bascom Hill Publishing Group

Number of Pages: 395

Synopsis (from back cover): In 1993, Jimmy Breslin wrote a front page story for New York Newsday, about Melanie Cane, a troubled young psychiatrist who “let love take her too far.” Fifteen years later, Melanie tells her side of the story in Poisoned Love, a heartbreaking and staggering account of her spiral into the depths of mental illness and what she did under the guise of love.

With extraordinary courage, Melanie provides intimate access to the thoughts and feelings leading to her desperate act, as well as an unvarnished account of her subsequent psychiatric treatment and the legal and social consequences of her crime.

Melanie’s steady progress toward recovery involves an emerging understanding of the relationship between her various diagnoses and her attachment to an abusive mentally ill father.

Her story teaches people about survival and success in the face of severe mental illness.

Review: I received this book only a few days ago, courtesy of a very nice woman at Bascom Hill Publishing Group. I had known the gist of the story (woman goes crazy, poisons her ex, gets committed, gets better), but I was unprepared for how intimate and tragic the telling of that story was going to be. Suffering from depression myself, I am unfortunately aware of the difficulties of living with a mental illness, but the heartrending pain that Melanie suffered as her rationality crumbled around her is far beyond anything like a run-of-the-mill mental illness. She had everything stacked against her: a severely mentally ill and abusive father, a resentful and angry mother, and an emotionally immature and abusive boyfriend. The rapidity and the extent of her recovery is staggering. She came out of her experience a better and more well-adjusted person than she had been before her breakdown. To those that would judge her (and have judged her), I would ask this: how would you have coped with the immense betrayal, pain, and abuse that Melanie went through? To retreat from reality seemed to be the only thing her mind would allow her to do.

At times, the writing does seem a bit amateurish, and at times the author’s descriptions of her illness and conversations with her doctors struck me as something from a psychiatry textbook…but then again, how else does a medical doctor explain her illness? The flow of the story also seemed stilted to me. Details were left out and referred to later as something that the reader should have known, and memory flashbacks were sometimes inserted into the story at awkward times. But all in all, this book is an engaging read, as Melanie allows her readers a most intimate glimpse into her pain and crumbling sanity. I would recommend this to everyone, as everyone can benefit from getting to know this highly intelligent and courageous woman.

Rating: 9/10

Reviewed by Sarah

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

This is a very moving story which made me feel angry and sad while I was reading it.

The book is narrated by Chief Bromden, a patient at a mental institution.  He is believed by staff and fellow patients to be deaf and dumb, but the truth (as we find out on page one) is that he is not, and is therefore perhaps more aware of what is going on around him some of the other patients.

Nurse Ratched rules her ward in the institution with a system of fear and intimidation.  Her coldness and cruelty is very apparent early on in the story.  Such is her reign of fear that none of the inmates dare stand up to her.  Even the ward Doctor – her superior – is terrified of defying her.

Into this regime comes Randle P McMurphy, criminal, gambler and unlikely hero.  McMurphy has chosen to come to the institution in lieu of serving a custodial sentence on a work farm.  He believes that it will be a breeze, and expects almost a holiday camp.  As he finds out, the reality is very different.  He is shocked, not only by the nurse’s treatment of the patients, but by the way they just accept it.

McMurphy encourages to the men to start thinking for themselves, but this is something which does not go down at all well with the nurse, and her effort to maintain control over the patients leads to a drastic conclusion.

Well written, touching and even funny at times, this is a book I wish I had read a long time ago, and certainly intend to read again in the future.

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