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.
About the Author
Susanna Kaysen has written the novels Asa, As I Knew Him and Far Afield and the memoirs Girl, Interrupted and The Camera My Mother Gave Me. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
Toward a Topography of the Parallel Universe
People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can't answer the real question. All I can tell them is, It's easy.
And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe. There are so many of them: worlds of the insane, the criminal, the cnp-pled, the dying, perhaps of the dead as well. These worlds exist alongside this world and resemble it, but are not in it.
My roommate Georgina came in swiftly and totally, dur-ing her junior year at Vassar. She was in a theater watching a movie when a tidal wave of blackness broke over her head. The entire world was obliterated--for a few minutes. She knew she had gone crazy. She looked around the theater to see if it had happened to everyone, but all the other people were engrossed in the movie. She rushed out, because the darkness in the theater was too much when combined with the darkness in her head.
And after that? I asked her.
A lot of darkness, she said.
But most people pass over incrementally, making a series of perforations in the membrane between here and there until an opening exists. And who can resist an opening? In the parallel universe the laws of physics are suspended. What goes up does not necessarily come down1 a body at rest does not tend to stay at rest1 and not every action can be counted on to provoke an equal and opposite reaction. Time, too, is different. It may run in circles, flow backward, skip about from now to then. The very arrangement of molecules is fluid: Tables can be clocks; faces, flowers.
These are facts you find out later, though.
Another odd feature of the parallel universe is that al-though it is invisible from this side, once you are in it you can easily see the world you came from. Sometimes the world you came from looks huge and menacing, quivering like a vast pile of jelly1 at other times it is miniaturized and alluring, a-spin and shining in its orbit. Either way, it can't be discounted.
Every window on Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco.
"You have a pimple," said the doctor.
I'd hoped nobody would notice.
"You've been picking it," he went on.
When I'd woken that morning--early, so as to get to this appointment--the pimple had reached the stage of hard expectancy in which it begs to be picked. It was yearning for release. Freeing it from its little white dome, pressing until the blood ran, I felt a sense of accomplishment: I'd done all that could be done for this pimple.
"You've been picking at yourself," the doctor said.
I nodded. He was going to keep talking about it until I agreed with him, so I nodded.
"Have a boyfriend?" he asked.
I nodded to this too.
'Trouble with the boyfriend?" It wasn't a question, actu-ally1 he was already nodding for me. "Picking at yourself," he repeated. He popped out from behind his desk and lunged toward me. He was a taut fat man, tight-bellied and dark.
"You need a rest," he announced.
I did need a rest, particularly since I'd gotten up so early that morning in order to see this doctor, who lived out in the suburbs. I'd changed trains twice. And I would have to retrace my steps to get to my job. Just thinking of it made me tired.
"Don't you think?" He was still standing in front of me. "Don't you think you need a rest?
"Yes," I said.
He strode off to the adjacent room, where I could hear him talking on the phone.
I have thought often of the next ten minutes--my last ten minutes. I had the impulse, once, to get up and leave through the door I'd entered, to walk the several blocks to the trolley stop and wait for the train that would take me back to my troublesome boyfriend, my job at the kitchen store. But I was too tired.
He strutted back into the room, busy, pleased with himself.
"I've got a bed for you," he said. "It'll be a rest. Just for a couple of weeks, okay?" He sounded conciliatory, or plead-ing, and I was afraid.
"I'll go Friday," I said. It was Tuesday, maybe by Friday I wouldn't want to go.
He bore down on me with his belly. "No. You go now.
I thought this was unreasonable. "I have a lunch date," I said.
"Forget it," he said. "You aren't going to lunch. You're going to the hospital." He looked triumphant.
It was very quiet out in the suburbs before eight in the morning. And neither of us had anything more to say. I heard the taxi pulling up in the doctor's driveway.
He took me by the elbow--pinched me between his large stout fingers--and steered me outside. Keeping hold of my arm, he opened the back door of the taxi and pushed me in. His big head was in the backseat with me for a moment. Then he slammed the door shut.
The driver rolled his window down halfway.
Coatless in the chilly morning, planted on his sturdy legs in his driveway, the doctor lifted one arm to point at me.
'Take her to McLean," he said, "and don't let her out till you get there."
I let my head fall back against the seat and shut my eyes. I was glad to be riding in a taxi instead of having to wait for the train.
This person is (pick one):
1. on a perilous journey from which we can learn much when he or she returns,
2. possessed by (pick one):
a) the gods,
b) God (that is, a prophet),
c) some bad spirits, demons, or devils,
d) the Devil1
3. a witch
Velocity vs. Viscosity
Insanity comes in two basic varieties: slow and fast.
I'm not talking about onset or duration. I mean the quality of the insanity, the day-to-day business of being nuts.
There are a lot of names: depression, catatonia, mania, anxiety, agitation. They don't tell you much.
The predominant quality of the slow form is viscosity.
Experience is thick. Perceptions are thickened and dulled. Time is slow, dripping slowly through the clogged filter of thickened perception. The body temperature is low. The pulse is sluggish. The immune system is half-asleep. The organism is torpid and brackish. Even the reflexes are di-minished, as if the lower leg couldn't be bothered to jerk itself out of its stupor when the knee is tapped.
Viscosity occurs on a cellular level. And so does velocity.
In contrast to viscosity's cellular coma, velocity endows every platelet and muscle fiber with a mind of its own, a means of knowing and commenting on its own behavior. There is too much perception, and beyond the plethora of perceptions, a plethora of thoughts about the perceptions and about the fact of having perceptions. Digestion could kill you! What I mean is the unceasing awareness of the processes of digestion could exhaust you to death. And digestion is just an involuntary sideline to thinking, which is where the real trouble begins.
Take a thought--anything1 it doesn't matter. I'm tired of sitting here in front of the nursing station: a perfectly rea-sonable thought. Here's what velocity does to it.
First, break down the sentence: I'm tired--well, are you really tired, exactly? Is that like sleepy? You have to check all your body parts for sleepiness, and while you're doing that, there's a bombardment of images of sleepiness, along these lines: head falling onto pillow, head hitting pillow, Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, Little Nemo rubbing sleep from his eyes, a sea monster. Uh-oh, a sea monster. If you're lucky, you can avoid the sea monster and stick with sleep-iness. Back to the pillow, memories of having mumps at age five, sensation of swollen cheeks on pillows and pain on salivation--stop. Go back to sleepiness.
But the salivation notion is too alluring, and now there's an excursion into the mouth. You've been here before and it's bad. It's the tongue: Once you think of the tongue it becomes an intrusion. Why is the tongue so large? Why is it scratchy on the sides? Is that a vitamin deficiency? Could you remove the tongue? Wouldn't your mouth be less both-ersome without it? There'd be more room in there. The tongue, now, every cell of the tongue, is enormous. It's a vast foreign object in your mouth.
Trying to diminish the size of your tongue, you focus your attention on its components: tip, smooth, back, bumpy, sides, scratchy, as noted earlier (vitamin defi-ciency), roots--trouble. There are roots to the tongue. You've seen them, and if you put your finger in your mouth you can feel them, but you can't feel them with the tongue. It's a paradox.
Paradox. The tortoise and the hare. Achilles and the what? The tortoise? The tendon? The tongue?
Back to tongue. While you weren't thinking of it, it got a little smaller. But thinking of it makes it big again. Why is it scratchy on the sides? Is that a vitamin deficiency? You've thought these thoughts already, but now these thoughts have been stuck onto your tongue. They adhere to the existence of your tongue.
All of that took less than a minute, and there's still the rest of the sentence to figure out. And all you wanted, really, was to decide whether or not to stand up.
Viscosity and velocity are opposites, yet they can look the same. Viscosity causes the stillness of disinclination, velocity causes the stillness of fascination. An observer can't tell if a person is silent and still because inner life has stalled or because inner life is transfixingly busy.
Something common to both is repetitive thought. Expe-riences seem prerecorded, stylized. Particular patterns of thought get attached to particular movements or activities, and before you know it, it's impossible to approach that movement or activity without dislodging an avalanche of prethought thoughts.
A lethargic avalanche of synthetic thought can take days to fall. Part of the mute paralysis of viscosity comes from knowing every detail of what's ahead and having to wait for its arrival. Here comes the I'm-no-good thought. That takes care of today. All day the insistent dripping of I'm no good. The next thought, the next day, is I'm the Angel of Death. This thought has a glittering expanse of panic behind it, which is unreachable. Viscosity flattens the effervescence of panic.
These thoughts have no meaning. They are idiot mantras that exist in a prearranged cycle: I'm no good, I'm the Angel of Death, I'm stupid, I can't do anything. Thinking the first thought triggers the whole circuit. It's like the flu: first a sore throat, then, inevitably, a stuffy nose and a cough.
Once, these thoughts must have had a meaning. They must have meant what they said. But repetition has blunted them. They have become background music, a Muzak med-ley of self-hatred themes.
Which is worse, overload or underload? Luckily, I never had to choose. One or the other would assert itself, rush or dribble through me, and pass on.
Pass on to where? Back into my cells to lurk like a virus waiting for the next opportunity? Out into the ether of the world to wait for the circumstances that would provoke its reappearance? Endogenous or exogenous, nature or nur-ture--it's the great mystery of mental illness.
Reading Group Guide
The questions that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted. We hope they will provide you with new ways of looking at--and talking about--a book whose style and subject matter are equally provocative.
1. The voice that narrates Girl, Interrupted may at first strike readers as cool, intellectual, rational, and controlled, qualities normally associated with sanity. It is a voice full of humor, characterized by an understatement that leaves much to the imagination. How, as we go deeper into the book, does the voice play against what it is describing--or heighten it? What is the overall effect of this voice?
2. At what point, if any, does your perception of the narrator (whom for convenience we call "Susanna") change? Does Susanna's "unreliability" as the narrator suggest something about the nature of madness itself?
3. What does the author accomplish by juxtaposing her actual medical records and case notes with the narrative? How do these documents contribute to your impression of Susanna's psychic state? How would this book be different without them?
4. The narrator reveals little about her life before entering McLean Hospital, and the only biographical information we receive appears rather late in the book. Why do you think Kaysen has chosen to do this?
5. The narrator describes her sojourn in McLean as a journey into a "parallel universe," one of many that "exist alongside this world and resemble it, but are not in it." What resemblances or analogies does Kaysen find between madness and everyday reality? How are the laws of these two universes different? How does one pass from one universe into another?
6. Kaysen gives us two ways of experiencing her parallel universe. One way is to make us understand how madness feels; another is to show how madness is treated (or, more accurately, controlled). What effect does she create by giving us two opposing ways of understanding insanity?
7. Most of the early sections of Girl, Interrupted are devoted to the narrator's observations of her fellow patients. To what extent, if any, do these women seem "crazy" to you? What difference do you see in the book's treatment of "Susanna," the character, and its treatment of the other patients?
8. How does Kaysen describe McLean's "keepers"--its nurses, doctors, and therapists? How do you account for the difference between the hard-bitten full-time staff and the wide-eyed student nurses?
9. In many ways McLean seems like an orderly place whose patients might easily be bored, slightly neurotic college students killing time in the dorm. Madness, real madness, creeps in insidiously, taking both reader and patients by surprise. At what points do we see madness intruding into McLean?
10. At certain points the author suggests that there is something comforting, and even seductive, about insanity. What might make madness comforting to a young girl in the late 1960s--or, for that matter, to anyone at any time?
11. A girl named Daisy kills herself in between hospital stays. Is this foreshadowed by what we already know about her? Why this patient, rather than another? To what extent is the behavior of any of these characters foreseeable?
12. Susanna has no apparent reaction to Daisy's death, but after Torrey, another patient, is released into the custody of her neglectful parents, she has an episode of what her case report calls "depersonalization" [p.105] and mutilates her hands to see if "there are any bones in there" [p.103]. Why? What is she looking for underneath her skin? What is the effect of the graphic physicality of this chapter?
13. The narrator sums up her release from McLean in the following way: "Luckily, I got a marriage proposal and they let me out. In 1968, everybody could understand a marriage proposal." What does this passage say about the choices available to female psychiatric patients--and, by extension, to any woman--at the time this book takes place?
14. The narrator describes 1968 as a time when "people [outside the hospital] were doing the kinds of things we [the patients] had fantasies of doing" [p.92]; a patient's paranoid "delusions" might turn out to be accurate descriptions of the U.S. government's clandestine activities. What other connections does Kaysen draw between her characters' disturbance and the social paroxysms of their time? In what way is this book a document of the 1960s?
15. How does the narrator feel when she meets Georgina and Lisa in the outside world, years after her release? What comparison can we make between the way Susanna sees their lives and the way she sees her own?
16. How does the madness of the 1960s compare to the private and collective neuroses of Freud's Vienna--or to the spectacular symptoms (Multiple Personality Disorder, False Memory Syndrome) of the 1980s and '90s?
17. One reviewer has noted that someone with Susanna's symptoms would today be given "60 days in-patient [treatment] and a psychotropic magic bullet. In 25 years, the cultural metaphor...has changed from incarceration to neglect." Is "neglect" preferable to "incarceration"? How do you think Kaysen might answer such a question?
18. Another critic begins her review of Girl, Interrupted with the observation: "When women are angry at men, they call them heartless. When men are angry at women, they call them crazy" (Susan Cheever, "A Designated Crazy," The New York Times Book Review, June 20, 1993). In what ways is Girl, Interrupted a book about the sexual constructs of madness? What role does the narrator's gender appear to have played in her diagnosis and treatment? How do gender relations inside McLean mirror those in the outside world?
19. What is the significance of the Vermeer painting "Girl Interrupted at Her Music" that appears in the last chapter? How did Susanna feel about the painting the first time she saw it? And how did she feel about it later, after her hospitalization? Why does the gaze of the music student in the painting so haunt her?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed the book even if I'm not all that sure about the message. This book was the true story of Susanna Kaysen who was committed to a mental hospital when she was 18. The chapters were short and crisp, and could most likely be read as short stories in themselves. The book was also interspersed with official forms documenting Kaysen's two year stay at McLean, which Kaysen only got the rights to many years after with the help of a lawyer. Kaysen kept her writing humorous and curt as she talked about the various patients, doctors, and incidents at the hospital. I liked these chapters, but got bored later on in the book after she left the hospital and began to describe the bounds of her illness. I'm a teenager myself, and my attention span is short. I enjoyed the book for its quirkiness and memorable characters, where others might like it for its comments on mental illness and the treatment of the mentally ill in the 60's.
I read the previous reviews and yet forgot that the story was not written in a linear fashion. That minor shock aside "Girl, Interrupted" was an unexpected treasure. I found Susanna Kaysen's story hit home in a very quiet manner. While reading her story the emotional weight of the individual glimpses into her life, as well as her overall life experience didn't hit me until after I had put the book down. It was an interesting view into a disorder that many live with everyday. If you are looking for the book version of the popular movie "Girl, Interrupted" this really isn't the book for you. While many of the stories from the book are also in the movie; there are many situations that take place in the movie that were never in the book. However, if you want a provocative and compelling look into the life of someone with BPD then I highly recommend this book.
i could not put this book down. it put me into the mind of susanna kaysen and didnt put me back into the real world until i was done. she seems so normal so sane, she asks the same questions we all ask at some point in our lives but never say outloud, she thinks the same thing we do. she becomes a symbol of each and every human being. And this book made me ask the question: are we all insane? are we all just like susanna kaysen?
Although many characters in Girl Interrupted are temporary this doesn't lesser their significance in the story because sometimes even though people are only with us for a short time they can have an immense effect on us just the same. One character that fits this description in the book is Susanna’s doctor, because even though the first time she meets him is the only time she meets him physically, he was still able to change her life because he is the reason she is in the mental health hospital (Kaysen 8). Another very important character that is reoccuring in the story is not only susanna but her own thoughts, or better said her subconscious. One of the things she does by influence of this unsaid character was take fifty aspirin. She says suicide is premeditated murder and you needed strong motives for it, and one of her main motives were created by her inner most thoughts. She says you also need to become apart from yourself; “Suicide is a form of murder-premeditated murder. It isn’t something you do the first time you think of doing it… And you need the means, the opportunity, the motive… It’s important to cultivate detachment . One way to do this is to practice imagining yourself dead, or in the process of dying… If there is a knife, you must imagine the knife piercing you're skin… My motives were weak: an American history paper… and the question I’d asked months earlier, Why not kill myself?” (Kaysen 36). She describes it as premeditated murder because there is a lot of prior thinking that goes into it. She says she has to imagine herself being harmed maybe it's her subconscious being harmed, because if her thoughts are harmed then she can become more detached as she says is necessary for suicide. The question about “why not kill myself,” is made by herself and her thoughts (Kaysen 36). Susanna is the most important character in this book because she actually is more than just one character. Another part suggesting that Susanna is more than one character is when she says “it was only a part of myself wanted to kill: the part that wanted to kill herself,” (Kaysen 37). She even refers to herself as more than one person because she wants to kill only a part of herself rather than her entire self, which would be impossible unless she were two people. This book was captivating in a sort of deranged way, because she tries to take you into the mind of somebody who is insane. She describes suicide with a gun by saying when you put it in your mouth you can taste it and feel it, but she wasn't brave enough to truly kill herself because when she went out on the street it was as though she gave up; “But when you put it[the gun] there you taste, it’s cold and greasy… Fifty aspirin is a lot of aspirin, but going onto the street and fainting is like putting the gun back in the drawer,” (Kaysen 16). When she describes how you can taste the gun it is almost like you can taste the defeat and only those with true intentions can go through with it, but those who can’t put “the gun back in the drawer,” (Kaysen 16). Although it may seem like the second person is defeated maybe it is the second person who is stronger because they find the strength to move forward, the first person is the one who truly loses the battle because they lose everything when they pull that trigger. I would not necessarily recommend this book for teens, I am a teen, because of the way it talks about suicide, and even though Susanna doesn't die she says what you need to do to
In Girl Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen is an intelligent 18 year old, yet she is very troubled. The story is narrated in an apathetic, cool tone and displays life in a mental hospital in the 60’s. Kaysen seems like one of those girls who just live with nothing holding her back, but her mental illness kind of takes over her. She calls life in the hospital “[their] parallel world” (28). An internal conflict Kaysen encountered was when she felt like she wasn’t real, so her scratched her arm trying to see if she had bones like everyone. After scratching her arms, I think that Kaysen comes to her senses and takes her treatment more seriously. The climax of the book is definitely when Kaysen goes therapy, and she learns to be more independent and accepts her illness. Kaysen is doing well most of the time, but she still has an uneasy feeling about the outside world especially when she went out for ice cream and completely flips over the checkered floors. Although I do respect Kaysen for being so open about her illness and story, I did not really enjoy the book. I dislike how she includes irrelevant characters and scenes. Throughout the entire book, there were some side plots that don’t add up to the climax and shouldn’t be in the book. Personally, I think that the book would be better if Kaysen hadn’t included the boyfriends so much because it kind of takes away her development. Also, the way Kaysen states and explains the ending is very unclear, and I couldn’t really wrap my head around it. The main reason I didn’t enjoy this book very much is Kaysen’s writing style. The style Kaysen writes in is very difficult to comprehend that I had to read almost every line twice. This book is definitely not one of my favorites, and I do not recommend it to people who do not like nonfiction books.
A good book dealing with mental illness.
The memoir Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen is a fantastic book that tells the two-year long true story of a girl diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder put in a mental hospital. Before reading this book, it should be noted that it contains strong language and mature content. This book does not hold back, it’s filled with dark comedy and biting realities. Susanna makes the contrast of the metal ward to the real world by calling it a “parallel universe”. The stories she tells of fellow women inside of the hospital are absolutely terrifying. For example, Polly, a woman who set herself on fire, or Daisy, a woman with a passion for laxatives and chicken, and would hound multiple chicken carcasses in her room. One of the best insights this memoir gives is some of the types of punishment in a mental health facility. Ms. Kaysen describes a seclusion room meant to “quarantine people who have gone bananas”. She describes a bare mattress surrounded by chipped walls and a door covered in chicken wiring. If patients didn’t calm down after a while in that room, they were put under “maximum security”, a whole other world. This type of information is important to know for the everyday person because it is important that hospitals not seem like another world, but instead a treatment place where conditions should be humane. The most significant point this book makes to provide education on mental disorders from the point of view of the patient. This point of view makes it so the information is not all scientific, but philosophical. The author compares Mind vs. Brain, and how an unbalance of each little voice inside your head is what leads to insanity. She does a fantastic job of taking you, the reader, through what having a character disorder really feels like and what her thought process is like. The questions she asks and discusses with herself throughout the book are truly compelling. They are questions you wouldn’t think to ask yourself before. If you want something to really make you think about the truth of life and the reality of death or suicide, read this book. I would recommend this book to people in high school and older. This may initially look like a short book to get through, but it is a very interesting read that takes a lot of energy and thinking to really digest. It is a really funny book at times, with dark comedy. It will make you feel sympathy for some patients, and maybe even empathy for others. It will truly make you understand what goes on behind mental hospital walls. --Abigail Regan
In the book, “Girl, Interrupted”, author Susana Kaysen describes what its like to live in a mental hospital. After attempted suicide by overdose, Susanna is forced to go toa monthly therapy session to get into better habbits and have a happy, healthy lifestyle. While at an appointment her doctor and her have a casual discussion about how she is doing and what her daily activities are. As she is there her doctor realizes that she has formed a blemish on her face. he then asks her if she's getting enough rest. After replying no he offers her a place to rest for awhile, calls a taxi, and walks her down to the taxi. During this process she thinks nothing more of it than regular checkup. However, what awoke her senses was when the doctor closed the door to her taxi to tell the driver not to stop anywhere until they have reached their destinination at McLean hospital. While at this hospital she ges through a serioes of shock treatments and shots. Susan also meets a couple of friends named daisy, polly and lisa. Together the four think of what thier lives would be like outside of the wretched place. The only visit Susan recieves while there is from a friend of hers who offers to take her away from the place to start a new life. She doesn't take the offer for some odd reason. I reommend this book because its very interesting and i myself admire non-fiction. However, I did not like how she kept jumping from place to place talking about her life in a mental hopital. For example, she would first talk about going to the doctors office then she would talk about what she did before getting there. I'm not quite sure if that was just me but I found it somewhat annoying.
There is much truth to be found in this memoir, but it is the kind of truth that some might find hard to hear and even harder to accept. Susanna is (was) a young woman lost in a machine. The machine is a business, first and foremost, with the secondary goal of aiding the mentally disturbed…no matter how many billable years recovery might take. The cogs inside that machine, the doctors and analysts and nurses and orderlies, most of them are well-meaning souls with a duty to help their patients, but they operate under the confines of stuffy and impersonal hospital rules…and often times these very restrictions help to feed their patients’ madness. As it is, Susanna looks around at the situation she’s signed herself into and asks many poignant questions—ones the doctors never think of. Once you are stripped of your freedom and dignity, once you are branded (diagnosed) how do you find an identity that doesn’t involve what the people around you say you are? How do you convince them (and yourself) that you are sane? You swallow 50 aspirin to rid yourself not of life but of demons; you bang your wrists, unsure if you are real enough to have bones; the world around you is a pattern of constant and suffocating chaos, disjointed images that don’t match the reality in front of you…but even after all this you look at the patients around you, girls who pour gasoline and light themselves on fire, who hoard chicken carcasses under their bed, who scratch at the walls of their own sanity with fingernails that have been forcibly clipped—and you compare yourself to them and you think, surely, I am the sane one? How did I end up in here? Do I really belong in here? Where are the lines between normal and crazy? What does it mean to be borderline? What does it mean to have your life interrupted? With all these questions weighing heavy on Susanna, even 25 years after her release, she still finds the grace to approach the subject of mental illness with humor and sets the scene in the hospital with a reluctant nostalgia that speaks to the guilty comfort of knowing that no matter how bad things get, you are not the only one. There is a subtext of bitterness between these pages, for sure, but by the end of the book it is understandable; mental illness is a difficult-to-shake stigma. In the end, there comes a final sense of validation: though she’s been told that her ultimate goal of living a life of literature and love is an unrealistic and, frankly, crazy endeavor, the best-seller I am currently reviewing says otherwise. Brave, witty, unexpected. Girl, Interrupted offers an indulgent but honest glimpse into the complex industry that is mental illness. I wish I would have read this memoir years ago. Best Lines: “In a strange way we were free. We’d reached the end of the line. We had nothing more to lose. Our privacy, our liberty, our dignity: All of this was gone and we were stripped down to the bare bones of our selves.” “Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go inside the hospital, one person is designated crazy and goes inside.” “Isn’t there some other way to look at this? After all, angst of these dimensions is a luxury item. You need to be well fed, clothed, and housed to have time for this much self-pity.” “The girl at her music sits in another sort of light, the fitful, overcast light of life, by which we see ourselves and others only imperfectly, and seldom.”
"...Kaysen initially was admitted to McLean for treatment of depression, but ended up being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and some of the files that have been scanned into the book are quite interesting to look at. Academically, there is a lot more known about mental illness now than there was while Kaysen was being treated at McLean, but there are still a lot of common misconceptions, and that makes me feel like at least some of the stigma still exists against this type of thing. That's one of the reasons I think I like this book so much; Kaysen and the other in-patients she talks about don't really conjure up images of men in white coats, straitjackets and padded walls - they're in the moderate security ward. They don't seem necessarily crazy, for the most part, and I found myself really caring about them..." For full review, please visit me at Les Livres on Blogger! jaimeliredeslivres dot blogspot dot com
Yes, there have been others of this type- such as "I never promised you a rose garden" Or "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Maybe people's experiences in these places are sufficiently varied to be worth writing about. The characters in this one, particularly the protagonist, are quite attractive and interesting. Nice upbeat note that she got out and wrote the book.
This book was AMAZINGLY good. I had seen a part of the movie, and so I was interested in the book, but when I actually read it i was stunned. The incredible depth and insight in this book was astounding the content ends up in one of three categories most of the time: dialogue, description of a person/event, and philosophical ponderings, the nature of which inspire further thought by the reader. This book is a must-read!
This was a wonderful book. I highly recommend the book and the movie to anyone suffering similar problems. The movie does not stray far from the book. I have the same diagnosis as Susanna, so I could totally relate to her story.
Having had the same experience as Susanna (although only staying at a mental hospital for 2 months in an outpatient program), I can relate to this book. It's incredibly well written, and it really pulls you into it. There's really nothing else to say except read it-you'll understand why I love it so.
Susanna is a great writer and obviously has an unusual story to tell. Since the circumstances of the story are so interesting, as a writer all Susanna needs to do is 'get out of the way' and I think she does this well. She has a terse writing style which I find appealing. Her character descriptions are first rate, and I think she has a subtle but keen sense of humor. She and Kay Jamison ('An Unquiet Mind') have written the finest mental illness memoirs available.
Loved the movie...hated the book. Usually it is the other way around for me. I found this book difficult to follow, very hard to finish ( thank god it was short), and would not recommened it to others.
Susanna Kaysen shares an episodic account of her two-year stay in a mental institution during her late teens. She recounts the ailments and behavior which led her to the hospital, while also questioning her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, as well as the manner in which mental illnesses are treated. In order to portray her experience and the experiences of the other young women she encountered within the institution accurately, Kaysen recounts a variety of occurrences, ranging from the grim to the lighthearted. Among Kaysen's recollections are one girl's experience with shock therapy, her own attempt to bite into her hand to ensure that she is "real," and the girls' humorous outing to an ice cream shop.Copies of Kaysen's medical records are juxtaposed against her personal accounts, often making the tone of the former documents unsettlingly cold and detached. Her personal account is often moving, and even the logic Kaysen uses to explain some of her most unusual behavior can make sense. At the same time, she strives for a relatively objective account of her interaction with mental health professionals. Kaysen presents a strong case to support her belief that the line between "normalcy" and mental illness is often muddied,--a thought she summarizes beautifully at the beginning of the book, writing that "Every window in Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco"-- without becoming overly critical of those who diagnosed and treated her.
a very good story, one that speaks to me emotionally. i liked the movie a little better, actually.
A wonderful book on living with depression. It's beautifully written. Very emotional.
Kaysen's account of her stay in a rather upscale psychiatric hospital is by turns funny, sad, and disturbing. I read it during a time in my life when I thought I might be on my way to the loony bin myself, and while I wouldn't say it HELPED me necessarily, it was both frightening and a relief to see myself reflected in Susanna Kaysen's account of her mental illness. This book isn't for everyone; I know a lot of people have read it and pronounced it "overrated." I really like it, though, and I think it's beautifully written. I think it's important to realize that Kaysen's experiences are her own, however, and she's not trying to make a statement about everyone who suffers from mental illness. If you take that into account (along with the knowledge that the book isn't much like the film), then you'll be in a better frame of mind for this book.
I read this book a long time ago--years before the movie came out and wasn't terribly impressed. I found the writing somewhat immature and not much reason for the accolades poured on Kaysen--maybe i need to give it another chance?
In the non-fiction Novel “Girl, interrupted”, Susanna Kaysen tells about her experiences when being kept in a psychiatric hospital at the age of 18, McLean Hospital. She encounters a number of female teen patients during her two year stay at the hospital. The patients mentioned in the book includes, Lisa which seems to take control as leader on Kaysen’s ward and can safely be characterized as unpredictable as portrayed in the book where the nurses found themselves without light bulbs in the halls of the hospital at all, “Everyone asked Lisa how she’d done it, but all she would say was, “I’ve got a long skinny arm”(pg.61). She proudly calls herself a sociopath, and is the only one in kaysen’s ward that’s diagnosed as a sociopath, she likes being “rare”. Georgina is a patient, she’s also Susanna’s roommate that suffers from depression. She explains a moment of when her depression (darkness) creeped upon her, “She was in a movie theater watching a movie when a tidal wave of blackness broke over her head. … She rushed out, because the darkness in the theater was too much when combined with the darkness in her head” (pg5). Polly, who set herself on fire, and Cynthia (polly’s protector) is a depressive herself too that undergoes through electroshock therapy. Lastly, Daisy which isn’t mentioned much since she committed suicide. The main conflict in the book is of Susanna dealing with her psychiatric thoughts and events. As she tells about her experiences she also mentions how her life was interrupted with her insanity. How she is in the insanity universe still being able to “easily see the world you come from”(pg.6). She gives us an example in the same page; “Every window in Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco”. Because of this slip into the universe she deals with this internal conflict that had lead her to an external action too. She confesses in the chapter “My diagnosis” that she has banged onto her wrists and done face scratching previously. She explains how she tried to counteract feelings of ‘numbness’ “So I told myself over and over, You are in pain.”(pg.153). There’s an important plot event that the Author (Susanna) discusses in the chapter “Elementary Topography”, she gets deeper into how she thinks and it really gives the reader a look at how her mind is. She illustrates this; “When I look at these things [checkerboard tiles], I saw other things within them”(pg.41). This is important because now we know that she is far from a simple mind and over thinks about what something is and what something isn’t. “Girl Interrupted” was a book that gave me a glimpse of this seperate world of crazy-ness. It gives me a better sense of what insane and sane reality is. It certainly makes me think about altered minds and the great difference between everyone. Susanna describes this in the very first chapter where she informs us that in the parallel universe “the laws of physics are suspended”(pg.6). Which makes people think, how? I like that it makes me question things that I wouldn’t question myself normally. There are chapters like in “Do you believe me or him?” & “My suicide that make me surprised at how Susanna Kaysen talks to the readers in a way that themes the way she is, which is thoughtful and convincing. What I disliked about the book was that she jumps from time to time in each chapter. And for those who love romance books, I advise for you not to read it because this book avoids romance. However, I deeply recommend this book to anyone
The book “Girl, Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen is a very good book with many interesting vignettes. The main character, Susanna, is a 17 year old that gets sent to the mental hospital because she is suicidal and depressed. In the book when she would be asked “how did you get there?” She stated that “All I can tell them is, It’s easy” which shows how she believes that whatever she did to end up in the hospital was not out of the ordinary (Kaysen 5). In this hospital there were many patients, three of the people that Susanna chose to hangout with were Georgina, Polly, and Lisa. Georgina is Susanna’s roommate and she was put into the hospital for depression as well. On the other hand Polly was placed in here because she was “disfigured” from major burns she caused herself by pouring gasoline all over her face and upper body before setting herself on fire, she soon became inconsolable. Lastly there was Lisa, she was considered the “leader” of all the girls at the ward (hospital), the reason for Lisa being placed in this hospital was because she was diagnosed a sociopath. Susanna was originally sent to the hospital by a doctor after less than a 20 minute consultation. The doctor noticed how self-conscious she was because she had a pimple and “[She’d] been picking at [her]self” soon after he told her that she needs a rest (Kaysen 7). One of the biggest reasons she was sent to the hospital was because of her attempt at suicide, there wasn’t really a specific reason why she wanted to commit but she said that “[She] had an inspiration once. [She] woke up one morning and [she] knew that today [she] had to swallow fifty aspirin” (Kaysen 17). It was never revealed why she chose to do this but it was clear that something was wrong. After she was sent to the ward, throughout the story she was learning to deal with her illness and how to cope with the environment since everything was so new to her. This book constantly brought up new stories and put her experience at the hospital which keeps you reading. Instead of having a couple chapters this book includes many many vignettes. The only downside to this book is that sometimes it would leave out ending to what happened to people. Maybe it was just that Susanna herself never found out what happened but it would be awesome if the ending would be included in the book. For example when a character in the book committed suicide it was never stated what happened to her after her death and how the characters went on with their life. Not only that but I wondered why Susanna never went back to the doctor to try to get out of the hospital and why wasn’t she allowed to leave the ward if she wasn’t that ill in the first place. This book gives a look into the hospital in the patient's perspective and shows how they feel on a daily basis. Overall I would recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in asylums and anyone whos fascinated by real life stories.
Brad Smith English 9H-5 1/22/18 Girl, Interrupted This book is about a young woman named Susanna Kaysen and the people she meets in the McLean mental hospital. She had an affair with a teacher, abandoned school, and attempted suicide. In the story Susanna said “As far as I could see it, life demanded skills I didn’t have”. I feel like that quote shows how Susanna feels as if she does not belong in the normal world. Another character that I feel really stands out is Georgina, she is Susanna Kaysen’s roommate and is a depressed person due to her relationship with her violent boyfriend, however she is also very commanding. One quote that shows an example of that is when Susanna asks “it couldn’t, could it?” and Georgina responds by saying “don’t let it. Don’t forget it.” That quote shows that whenever Susanna asks something, Georgina responds in a demanding tone. I really like this book because it is very interesting and draws the reader in.She stays in that hospital for a long time and explains her experience and what she went through. Even though it was tuff to stay in there with no visitors and no freedom of going outside alone she gets through it. In the story we learn about the new people she meets and what she has in common with them. Also, I recommend this book because it is very inspiring. It shows the audience how a young women with a mental disability goes through and figures out what is wrong with her in order to get into the real world. It can teach the audience to never give up and to trust the process during anything,because in the end they’ll through it.
The novel “Girl Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen illustrates the life of being registered in McLean Hospital; mental institution. Susanna Kaysen is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, “it’s what they call people whose lifestyles bother them” (151) which is more common in women rather than men, she points out. Kaysen is tentative of her emotions towards various situations this can be treated with therapy or in more severe cases with medication. Lisa Rowe is another patient in the hospital her diagnosis is antisocial personality disorder, in other words she’s a sociopath. “Lisa tongued her sleeping meds for a week, took them all at once, and stayed zonked for a day and a night” (60). She can be characterized as belligerent and some of her actions can be very dour. Kaysen attempted, suicide “[she] woke up one morning and [she] knew that today [she] had to swallow fifty aspirin” (17). She visited the doctor and he brought attention to the pimple that arose on her face, “You’ve been picking at yourself … trouble with the boyfriend” (7). He wouldn’t let her speak, and a few minutes later she was forcefully sat in a taxi cab on her way to McLean. Susanna’s internal conflict is coping with her mental illness and trying to figure out life trapped in this hospital while life continues in the outside world. This novel is quite empowering and reveals the hidden truths of being a mental patient. Although it is not in chronological order, it is organized in a spontaneous way that makes complete sense. In the chapter Bare Bones Susanna starts to believe that she has no bones in her hand so therefore she put her fist in her mouth and bit down and down came a drip of blood. How could they be there is she couldn’t see them, she announced. Lisa #2 also known as Lisa Cody comes in later in the book and does some peculiar things. I was very intrigued with the detailed descriptions she made of all the characters and facts she stated about mental illnesses. Overall Susanna Kaysen wrote a remarkable memoir that answered what some describe as unanswerable questions.