Based on the authors 2 year incarceration in McLean’s psychiatric hospital, “Girl, Interrupted” establishes itself as an unnerving yet brilliant memoir of Susanna Kaysen’s.
What Girl, Interrupted is about:
The novel details Kaysen’s introduction to the hospital at just 18 years old for what she believed to be “a rest”. She explores her life before and after treatment, and gives her own gives on mental health and stigma. It remains brutally honest throughout as not only is life at McLean divulged, but so too are the inner workings of Kaysen’s psyche. We see this in her obsession with the passing of time or moments of depersonalisation where she doubts if she is “real”. Her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is examined and critiqued in a somewhat bemused yet brave fashion. Kaysen makes no attempt to sugar coat her views on various mental illnesses and how they are perceived by others. We are not left feeling isolated from the author as she ensures we come to understand dimensions of the human psyche we never thought we could.
We observe Kaysen spectate and record the experience of her fellow patients such as her roommate Georgina, who with Susanna was considered one of the more “sane” of the group. We’re introduced to the likes of the chicken eating and laxative dependent Daisy, and Lisa a sociopath whose semi-frequent escapes are seen as “vacations” from the hospital. A unity is noted between the patients and while sometimes seeming lethargic towards others, Kaysen shows us that they are not merely “crazy people”. In fact, she reminds us of the fine line between what she describes as the “parallel universe” between being “sane” and “insane”.
With letters and documents from Kaysen’s treatment, and short to-the-point chapters the reader is constantly reminded that this is not a light-hearted fictional book, but a very real and harrowing account of incarceration. This is not a story told in a chronological sequence as it leaps from topics and scenes but remains compelling and keeps readers on their toes.
This is a novel that leaves you questioning your sanity – although if you are questioning your sanity then you are most likely sane.
This book was so raw, I love how she had no qualms putting herself out there like this. Borderline Personality Disorder is one of the most highly stigmaitsed mental illnesses. People with BPD are painted as monsters, manipulators, abusive, liars etc, when Susana Kayson shows us that this isn’t the case. She’s not some big scary monster, she’s a person like you and me. Even if you don’t have BPD, you can probably still relate to her.
Ultimately, this was a book I felt genuinely sad at finishing because of how much I enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it.
I also really enjoyed the movie adaption of Girl, Interrupted with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.
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If you’re interested in books about mental health you may also enjoy Me & My Mate Jeffrey by Nial Breslin.
Ironically, the hospital Susana was in, is the very same one Slyvia Plath spent some time in, which largely inspired the Bell Jar.