Nervous System: Or, Losing My Mind in Literature

Overview

Within the literature of madness, there has never been a memoir as wrenching and mordantly humorous as Jan Lars Jensen's Nervous System. A quiet librarian who struck publishing gold with his first novel, Jensen felt as if something had come unhinged in his mind. The rush of ideas and language felt like losing, willy-nilly, a chunk of his mental stability. But true madness didn't come until the countdown to his book's release into the world. A few months after selling his novel to a major American publisher, ...

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Overview

Within the literature of madness, there has never been a memoir as wrenching and mordantly humorous as Jan Lars Jensen's Nervous System. A quiet librarian who struck publishing gold with his first novel, Jensen felt as if something had come unhinged in his mind. The rush of ideas and language felt like losing, willy-nilly, a chunk of his mental stability. But true madness didn't come until the countdown to his book's release into the world. A few months after selling his novel to a major American publisher, Jensen woke in a psych ward bed, only to find the ideas that had inspired him now roamed through waking nightmares that deranged him. Just as literature prompted Jensen's slide into paranoid obsession, so did it help him rebuild and recover. Whether he was groping to comprehend James Herriot's veterinarian stories through a haze of antipsychotic medication, deciphering his psychiatrist's references to Patrick O'Brian novels, or attempting to steer his recalcitrant mind toward sleep with a history of logging, books and writing defined Jensen's world. This memoir recounts Larsen's extraordinary experience. Terrifying yet tender, darkly humorous and deeply moving, Nervous System is a tale of literary madness like no other.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Shortly after hitting it big with his debut sf novel, Shiva 3000, a dystopian tale set in a future India, Jensen attempted suicide. Opening on the second night of his stay in a psychiatric ward, this work is a sometimes surreal, sometimes funny, often sad, and frankly scary trip through the experience of "losing one's mind." It is the story of a nervous breakdown and the road to recovery, notable for its literariness-the author is a librarian from Calgary, Alberta, and belongs to the venerable list of Sartists driven to madness for their art. But art also helps pull him through; he reread James Herriot, for instance, and followed up his psychiatrist's references to Patrick O'Brian. This emotional and candid memoir is recommended for medium to large public libraries and for academic libraries, particularly those collecting in modern Canadian literature or where writings about mental illness and recovery are popular.-Terren Ilana Wein, Univ. of Chicago Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Jensen's artlessly earnest memoir chronicles his descent into delusional paranoia upon the publication of his first novel (Shiva 3000, 1999). A 29-year-old librarian in Canada at the time, the author was committed to a psych ward for several weeks after a failed suicide attempt (sleeping pills, but not enough to do the job). Jensen was convinced there was a marksman just outside the hospital window who was going to shoot him. It probably served him right, he believed, because he was about to cause "the end of the world" with the imminent publication by a large American publisher of his first novel, a SF thriller about the Hindu god Shiva. During his time at the hospital, the patient avoided contact with other people, lest he contaminate them. "I can't put anyone else at risk," he explained to a nurse. "It would be immoral of me." Faithful wife Michelle visited constantly and seemed to want him to get well, yet she returned Jensen to the hospital in the middle of the night when his delusions didn't go away. The author actually tried (unsuccessfully) to withdraw his novel from publication, fearing lawsuits by world governments. Several chapters of back-story delineate some possible causes of Jensen's breakdown: stress, lack of sleep, anti-malarial drugs, "years of overcast skies," a family history of suicide or simply fear of success. Living in the Mennonite community of Fraser Valley, where the sign "Prepare to Meet God" greeted him every day, didn't help. The author even suggests that his malaise might have had roots in troubling books such as Silence of the Lambs. Whatever the causes, this was definitely the hard way for a writer to learn that his own book "would not set the world onfire." Jensen's account of his incarceration achieves an empathetic irony, but he might have done better to write another novel and put these details to greater, dynamic effect. A pale addition to the rich literature of madness.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786715626
  • Publisher: Avalon Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/2005
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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