Sara’s Review: Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Synopsis (per amazon): 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 in 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.

My Impression: Having seen the movie first, my initial impression was that the movie was extremely loosely based on the book. That having been said, not considering the movie, I felt that this story was all over the place. It was an easy read, but in many ways, it felt like reading randomly patched together diary entries from different points in time. Perhaps that was what the author was going for. Maybe she wanted the readers to see time as fluidly as she saw it during her illness. Whatever the case, it got confusing at times.  I can appreciate this book for its exposure of the mental health care system in the 1960’s and for raising awareness of and de-stigmatizing mental illness. The author, herself, is proof that mentally ill people can and do recover and are able to be productive citizens in the world and that, most importantly, it (mental illness) could happen to anyone.

What I liked: I liked the author’s prose. She has a beautiful way with words and an interesting, metaphorical way of describing her inner world and musings on what she feels others must perceive. I liked that it was honest and even included several official psychiatric documents so that you could see, firsthand, what her therapists were thinking in regards to her behavior and treatment.

What I didn’t like: It’s not that the book is *bad*, per se, or hard to read . . . it’s just that it’s a little messy. It’s kind of disjointed and ranty, at times, with no real solid point to it. It’s coherent enough, but it lacks an overall story arc, which bothers me. As stated before, it reads a lot like diary entries stitched together and published for public consumption.

My Rating: 

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