Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Girl, Interrupted

See alternate cover edition here.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...

Title:Girl, Interrupted
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0679746048
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:169 pages

Girl, Interrupted Reviews

  • Erin

    have you ever spent any time in a psychiatric hospital? yeah, well, i don't recommend it. i was a patient for a total of 2 and a half days, and it was one of the best and worst experiences of my life. i liked this book because i was able to relate to some of her feelings. when i went in, it was because i was on the verge of something, and thank god i caught myself in time. my first morning there, i remember thinking, "i have to get out of here, because i may not be crazy now, but these people wi

    have you ever spent any time in a psychiatric hospital? yeah, well, i don't recommend it. i was a patient for a total of 2 and a half days, and it was one of the best and worst experiences of my life. i liked this book because i was able to relate to some of her feelings. when i went in, it was because i was on the verge of something, and thank god i caught myself in time. my first morning there, i remember thinking, "i have to get out of here, because i may not be crazy now, but these people will make me crazy." i'm so glad to have been proved wrong. while this may sound terrible, i listened to the other people's problems, and realized that my mild depression (or whatever it was) was nothing in comparison to what these poor people were going through in their lives. susana keysen may have had some problems, but overall, she was one of the sanest people there. she was able to get to know some "interesting" people, and in seeing them, she could compare her own problems to theirs.

    sorry to use my own story to describe someone else's book, but that's what made it such a good read for me. a good book should have the ability to transfer you to that time or place, and my experiences made it so much easier for this book.

  • Nataliya

    Good question, isn't it? You may start asking yourself this after reading this book.

    I only spent a few months taking care of patients in psychiatric hospitals, but it made me really appreciate the nuances of Kaysen's story. It is the viewpoint of someone who had to experience questioning her sanity - the one thing most of us take for granted.

    What some don't know about personality disorde

    Good question, isn't it? You may start asking yourself this after reading this book.

    I only spent a few months taking care of patients in psychiatric hospitals, but it made me really appreciate the nuances of Kaysen's story. It is the viewpoint of someone who had to experience questioning her sanity - the one thing most of us take for granted.

    What some don't know about personality disorders is that they will not "just go away". You can learn how to cope with them, but you will not be "cured". The scary thing about them is that you can look at them as bits of your "regular" personality, just significantly amplified.

    I am sure all of us have experienced some of these at one time or another.

    Is that what scares us about "going crazy"? The same question seems to be troubling Kaysen.

    Doctors and nurses alike tend to be wary of patients with personality disorders, and borderline personality disorder in particular gets a bad rap. It can be quite draining treating someone with BPD, that's true, but we don't always think about what the world must seem like through their eyes. And that's where

    brings this often overlooked perspective.

    This book does not have a defined plot or a linear narrative - it is just a story of an unhappy young woman trying to find her place in a world that excludes her, and it is an enlightening and interesting read. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in medicine or psychology.

  • Paul Bryant

    Everything is made of language. In the morning you hear those damned birdies tweedlydee tweedlydoo to each other or some damned cats meowing but that’s not language. It may be communication but it has no grammar and it can only describe the here and now (the hear and know). The birdies are tweebing about the cats, “look there’s a kitty cat watch out” and the cats are meowing about the birdies (“I see a lot of edible things in trees”) and it doesn’t get much more interesting than that. They will

    Everything is made of language. In the morning you hear those damned birdies tweedlydee tweedlydoo to each other or some damned cats meowing but that’s not language. It may be communication but it has no grammar and it can only describe the here and now (the hear and know). The birdies are tweebing about the cats, “look there’s a kitty cat watch out” and the cats are meowing about the birdies (“I see a lot of edible things in trees”) and it doesn’t get much more interesting than that. They will never write a novel. Whereas humans are the opposite, they almost never talk about the here and now. It’s always “I’m sure this wasn’t as expensive as last time we were here” or “you have to get your suit cleaned for next week”. Human language is a really dangerous device, it’s explosive, because not only can you talk about things that aren’t in the here and now, you can with very little effort talk about things that couldn’t possibly exist ever. The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat. They took some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in a five pound note. Well, it’s just nonsense, because you wouldn’t wrap up honey in a five pound note, it would gunge up the five pound note, no retailer would accept it, and anyway, an owl and a pussycat would never be able to hire a boat. They wouldn’t have a clue about navigation – how could they use oars? Is this a motorised boat? Was it a tidal estuary? Anyway, I’m getting distracted – by language. And this proves my point. Language means that hardly anything we say is true. I wish I was dead. My mother’s going to kill me. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. I am no longer in control of my own brain, something else is. All commonly used phrases, a million of them, none of them literally true. Well, we hope not. We hope there are very few mothers who will kill their children, actually kill them, if they’re an hour late. The metaphorical aspect of language, which is its limitless joy and psychedelic legerdemain that we all are in love with, or why would we be readers, leads us humanish beings into some unhappy dark places. All that beating of heads against walls about the Trinity in Christianity for instance. It’s a metaphor – three aspects of God – not three Gods – it’s a poetic way of expressing an ineffable reality (if you’re a Christian) - but the metaphor escaped and took on a life of its own and became a source of much befuddlement. Susanna Kaysen artfully informs us how the madness gets in. It’s when you can’t tell what is language describing something that is from language describing something that might be or could be or never could be. She gives an example – that bureau in the corner looks like a tiger (simile). No – that bureau in the corner IS a tiger! This whole book is about whether we are brains or minds. Brains are very very very very very very very complex machines. But minds are something else. Drugs can fix brains like oil can fix an engine. But drugs can’t fix minds.

    This is a gigantic debate and may, of course, be another metaphor that has taken on an undeserved life of its own. (Is there a ghost in the machine? Well, I don’t believe in ghosts. But if a thing walks like a ghost and quacks like a ghost, then maybe.)

    Language leads this memoir astray. Susanna’s account of her 18 month stay in the loony bin (her jocular term, don’t look at me like that) is so wry, “cool, elegant and unexpectedly funny” (Sunday Times), “triumphantly funny” (NYT), “darkly comic” (Newsweek), so mordant, so witty, that it without meaning to verges on presenting hospitalization for mental illness as a hip alternative to college. The tag line on the back of my copy is : “Sometimes the only way to stay sane is to go a little crazy”. Hmmph, I should say not. Like it’s some kind of choice. Like you’re aligning mentally ill people with hipsters, beatniks, drop-outs, Left Bank artistic sufferers, hey, Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath – all those cool types. That’s the blurb writer getting carried away. Like all of us. Carried away by the onrushing ever tumbling surge of human language which is the ruin and the salvation of us all.

  • Navessa

    I’m sort of at a loss for how to describe this book and the emotions it provoked within me. I guess the best word I could use is “unsettled”, but probably not for the reason you would imagine.

    This quote might shed some light on what I mean:

    I’m sort of at a loss for how to describe this book and the emotions it provoked within me. I guess the best word I could use is “unsettled”, but probably not for the reason you would imagine.

    This quote might shed some light on what I mean:

    Precisely. This story is told not from the perspective of someone who sees creatures lurking in the shadows, or is convinced that she is the girlfriend of a Martian, or is blinded by homicidal rage, but by a young woman fully self-aware of her own shortcomings.

    It made me ask myself, which is the worse fate? Descending blindly into madness, or being fully aware of your own dilemma and finding yourself helpless to prevent it?

    I think the reason that so many people find this tale so haunting is that while reading it, one can’t help but compare themselves to the narrator. I certainly did. And that’s the very reason this book left me feeling so unnerved.

    I was strikingly similar to this MC at the age of her institutionalization. What if I had been unlucky enough to be diagnosed by a therapist like hers? He spent all of

    with her and came to the conclusion that she needed to be committed.

    After reading about the interaction, I can’t help but wonder…WHY? And more disturbingly…why not ME?

    I dare you to read this and not ask yourself the same questions.

  • Karly *The Vampire Ninja, Luminescent Monster & Wendigo Nerd Goddess of Canada (according to The Hulk)*

    For most of us the idea of being insane is scary. The harder question is the why; why is insanity so scary? Is it so scary because we have all, at one time or another (I believe), doubted our own sanity? I know I have. Or is it so scary because it is so impossible to define, to categorize in absolutes? When is the threshold at its thinnest?

    In the moments when my brain launches like a freight train into a statio

    For most of us the idea of being insane is scary. The harder question is the why; why is insanity so scary? Is it so scary because we have all, at one time or another (I believe), doubted our own sanity? I know I have. Or is it so scary because it is so impossible to define, to categorize in absolutes? When is the threshold at its thinnest?

    In the moments when my brain launches like a freight train into a station, yet in about a dozen different ways, at 4 o’clock in the morning when I have been exhausted and unable to sleep all day? In the inner conversations I have with myself, or other people, inside my own head that never see the light of day? What does it really mean to be crazy?? In the quiet nectar of a cup of coffee in the morning when the fog is tumbling lazily over my brain making everything just a little less ‘real’ feeling?

    Is it true what

    say; the more you question your own sanity the less likely you are, in fact, to be insane? If so Susanna Kaysen is definitely NOT insane. She questions

    and has probably one of the most introspective voices I have ever read. Her thoughts, expressed superbly in

    , are well thought out and certainly sane

    .

    What is insanity?! Is it a true state of being or is it a mind’s reaction to an unnatural state of existence? Fore how natural is it really to exist in a world constantly defining you for you, where it is more important to seem something than truly BE it. Perhaps we will never really know, certainly (even now, far removed from the dates Kaysen found herself at home in an institution) there are far more questions than answers.

  • Kelly (and the Book Boar)

    Find all of my reviews at:

    Boy was it ever easy for Susanna Kaysen to end up in a psychiatric hospital. Now, Susanna was not “normal” per se. She randomly obsessed about things as bizarre as whether or not she actually had bones in her body since she couldn’t see them and wa

    Find all of my reviews at:

    Boy was it ever easy for Susanna Kaysen to end up in a psychiatric hospital. Now, Susanna was not “normal” per se. She randomly obsessed about things as bizarre as whether or not she actually had bones in her body since she couldn’t see them and was battling depression that at one point led her to down 50 aspirin. She most definitely needed some help . . . But in the 1960s the form of help provided to young girls like Susanna was a long-term stay in the local looney bin where the Thorazine flowed like water and electric shock therapy was a sure-fire cure for crazy.

    Although compact and a

    fast read,

    is a haunting story that I won’t soon forget and will easily go down as one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Not only is the story fascinating (and a bit horrifying), but Ms. Kaysen’s writing is some of the most truthful I’ve seen . . .

    Highly recommended.

  • Sidharth Vardhan

    Kind of sheds light on the whole system of mental asylums, doesn't it? Anyway how do you know if the treatment of a mentally disordered person is working. You won't take their word for it, and if they question the institution, than you can claim (and actually genuinely believe) that you are suffering from persecution complex. That is the trouble - they have a big

    Kind of sheds light on the whole system of mental asylums, doesn't it? Anyway how do you know if the treatment of a mentally disordered person is working. You won't take their word for it, and if they question the institution, than you can claim (and actually genuinely believe) that you are suffering from persecution complex. That is the trouble - they have a big word for everything which makes you think of it as a disease. If you are too moody, you have bipolar disease; if you are too sad, you are depressed; if you are too happy, you are suffering from euphoria. You can't do anything out of proportion or rules in this world gets declared insane. And once you are declared crazy, even things you do by the book of proportions is suspected:

    Also, with a race which seems to be at war with itself and rest of life on planet since begining of its so called 'intelligence' and which has brought the planet to destruction, who, really can lay claim on sanity?

    Still it is one of those chances where you can see things from point of view of an inmate.

    With people like author and her friends, part of problem is knowledge of their instablity. How much lonely they must feel knowing that that they are alone in the world of things they are imagining. And some were really teenagers, discovering the not so likeable realities of the world, so one can't help wondering whether they couldn't be helped more with a good counseling and medicine rather than being locked in an asylum.

    I still do not agree with her complete disapproval of professional of psychologists, I think that as a field it still seems to be finding its feet (and unfortunately has started on wrong foot) - also while being a psychologist may not be the hardest thing, being a good one must be terribly difficult requiring insight into human mind, a combination or compassion and disinterestedness, patience etc. But except for that, it was beautiful all around.

    Parting thought : it is a memoir, read it like that and not as a novel. It is not supposed to be entertaining.

    More quotes:

  • Duane

    After reading novels like

    or

    , one could be forgiven for feeling skeptical about the treatment for the mentally ill during the 1960's. I'm not sure Susanna Kaysen's memoir will change that much. In 1967, after a short interview with a psychiatrist, she was admitted, (committed may be a better word), to a mental hospital in Massachusetts, the same one that treated Sylvia Plath. Her stay lasted about 2 years. She was told she had a "character disorder".

    After reading novels like

    or

    , one could be forgiven for feeling skeptical about the treatment for the mentally ill during the 1960's. I'm not sure Susanna Kaysen's memoir will change that much. In 1967, after a short interview with a psychiatrist, she was admitted, (committed may be a better word), to a mental hospital in Massachusetts, the same one that treated Sylvia Plath. Her stay lasted about 2 years. She was told she had a "character disorder". Twenty five years later, after reading her hospital records, she learned she was diagnosed with "Borderline Personality Disorder". This memoir is her recollection of the time she spent, the treatment she received, the doctors and nurses who treated her, and the other patients around her. For those of us who are not personally familiar with these type of histories and institutions, this is an eye opening revelation and I can only hope things have improved since 1967.

    The book title was inspired by Vermeer's painting "Girl Interruped at Her Music".

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