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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.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
Published: VintageAnchor an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780804151115
List price: $11.99
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I completed this on January 14th. It was an very quick read. read it in a day.
I like when she spoke about the other women in the hospital , that was fun and interesting but the end of the book was a bit boring.
I think that this is because I have watched the movie. Normally I prefer to read a book first.
It does not look anything like the movie.
more
I loved the plot, storyline.. a story that needs to be told.I really liked all the characters buy wish more information had been given about them. The book seems to mention them and add a little bit from time to time but just enough to keep you wondering and at times frustrated. The actual hospital, doctor notes added flavor to the whole book. I admit I picked it up and couldn't put it down, read through it two sittings but there was something lacking.I liked the perspective from the patient, the girl herself.The only problem I had was.. I wanted more information. It seemed to be too quick of a read for the story that it was. There has to be more info and happenings. I felt like the whole story was not told in a way. I am not sure how to rate this... I also wondered if our main character really had that severe of a mental issue...I know there were issues but that was a long time to be hospitalized. I guess that is why I thought the book should have been longer as she was in the hospital a long time. I did love the title!!!more
I really enjoyed the first half of this one. It was interesting and captivating and very well written. I like that Kaysen tells the story in a matter of fact way instead of rambling or whining. It was interesting reading about the lives of all the different people there and how they interacted with each other. I didn't enjoy the second half as much, though. It didn't really seem to tell us much; it was an awful lot of detail of mundane things. However, overall it was a good quick read, very intriguing and the writing is very good.more
Memoir of a lady in an insane asylum. Great and challenging short-read.more
I loved this book - when I got to the end I immediately turned back to the first page and started reading again.It describes a mental state and a way of life that most of us never see.Part of what fascinates me about this book is that regardless of what the author says, I think the diagnosis (of Borderline Personality Disorder) was spot on. The fact that she's looking through that lens - and that, frankly, you can't trust her to even know when she's dissembling - is what makes it more than just a straightforward memoir.more
Absolutely amazing. One of my favorite books that I've ever read. I own two copies of this book, one I have never touched except to purchase it and the other I have read so many times that it is in rare form compared to the books assembled in my collection. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone!!!!!!more
I just could not get into it. Fishished it -- but it was a struggle.more
I saw the movie before I even knew there was a book, I was very surprised at how much better the book is than the movie. This is one of my all time favorite books.more
I enjoyed very much reading this book (I read it in one afternoon, couldn't stop reading it!). The movie based on it is great, but it is very different from the book.The book is much softer and inside Susana Kaysen's head. I really liked that. The way she though things through and observed her surroundings was very nice. I also liked the questioning side of the book. Who is crazy? and, who gets to say who is sane and who insane?At the end she mentions how homosexuality was once considered a mental illness, and states that maybe her 'craziness' will one day be considered normal. I though this to be very beautiful. Definitively a good read. I recommend it.more
Quick read, good insight to being in a mental hospital during the 60s. Enjoyedmore
A most impressive read that takes the audience on a journey through the psyche of a depressed teenage girl stuck in a hospital for those with mental disorders. Kaysen paints a picture of her life back in the 60's and awes the reader with her lyrical writing. I loved this book. It moved me and her philosophical ponderings were quite interesting as well.more
About half of this book is devoted to straightforward anecdotes about everyday life in a mental hospital. These chapters are interesting and informative. Another quarter or so is dedicated to attempting to convince the reader that the author was committed (actually, she was a voluntary walk-in, but says she was tricked into it) on the strength of a thirty-minute doctor's interview. These chapters grow wearisome and annoying quickly. The rest of the book, and here's where I have real problems, is dedicated to pompous, arch diatribes on "the quality of the insanity, the day-to-day business of being nuts." Here are some illuminating excerpts: "Viscosity causes the stillness of disinclination; velocity causes the stillness of fascination." "A lethargic avalanche of synthetic thought can take days to fall." "It was my misfortune -- or salvation -- to be at all times perfectly conscious of my misperceptions of reality. I never 'believed' anything I thought or saw. Not only that, I correctly understood each new weird activity." Call me crazy, but all this sounds like bullshit. That last quote highlights something else very irritating about the author: her constant struggle to have it both ways. She craves the "insane" label so that she can deliver dull lectures on the subject ("Insanity comes in two basic varieties: slow and fast"), pal around with the fun-loving psych ward girls ("In a strange way we were free"), and think of herself as so preciously broken ("They [normal people] were all seventeen and miserable, just like me. They didn't have time to wonder why I was a little more miserable than most"). Yet her relationship with her condition is a definite love/hate-type thing. She constantly downplays her own diagnosis ("I knew I wasn't mad"), recasting it as a patriarchal society's punishment for a too-cool chick. She can't stand that her stay in an asylum gives her a disadvantage in a cockfight with a doctor: "He can say it because he's a doctor. If I said it, nobody would believe me." Isn't there supposed to be some benefit to a degree that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and twelve years of study? Shouldn't that mean your opinion matters a little more than that of an uneducated loony? At all times, the author exudes a snotty, bitchy aura. Of her diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, she sneers, "So these were the charges against me. I didn't read them until twenty-five years later." Take that, old man! She didn't even read them! "One of my teachers told me I was a nihilist. He meant it as an insult but I took it as a compliment." You go, girl! You go! "This was ME...I was not going to type term bills or sell au gratin bowls or do any other stupid things." Die...just die. When she finally does get a job, she has trouble following the dress code and rebels against the no-smoking rule. "I was the one person who had trouble with the rules. Everybody else accepted them. Was this a mark of my madness?" No, it's a mark of your bitchiness. The attempt to justify the one with the other is the hallmark of this book and, I find it impossible not to imagine, the hallmark of the author and the person.more
I LOVED this book and found it a very enjoyable read. It took me a day total to read it and I enjoyed every minute of it.more
After one three hour interview with a psychiatrist, 18-year-old Susanna Kaysen is hospitalized in 1967. It's a time when just being different and living outside societies preconceived notions can earn you the label of crazy. Susanna stays within the hospital for two years of her life and she describes her experience with crisp clarity. My immediate notion after reading this book was to compare it to the movie, which has more drama and a more direct and straightforward story arc, but lacks the disjointed beauty of the book and Susanna's often slyly humorous observations. The memoir is compose of short vignettes, which introduce the various people she meets, and is interjected with original documents from her records, along with observations on insanity and the entire psychiatric system. It's really a beautiful book that not only looks at the nature of mind, but how insanity was (and perhaps is) determined as much by gender as by one's actual mental state.more
This book is very good. It was harder to follow at first, but once you got into the story it made more sense. I really enjoyed all of the characters in the story. They all had a different distinct personality, and they all kind of moved to the same flow of being in the hospital. The end was especially great though, because when she started seeing all of the girls from the hospital, and where they have ended up in life. I would have never suspected that Lisa would have had a child, but she did. This story is especially interesting, because you see everyone's different viewpoints from staying in the hospital. I really enjoyed this book!more
I really enjoyed the quick read aspect of this book. While Susanna did indeed spend some time near the end of her book describing her specific illness it was not overwhelming by any means. I have never seen the movie so I can not make any comment as to the reflection between the two. The book includes paperwork from the mental hospital in which Susanna spent her 18th & 19th year; paperwork regarding diagnosis and treatment, etc.Basically, she made a creative little story of many characters with whom she shared the female mental ward with for those 18 months. It gave some insight into how life on a mental ward was for low risk mental patients in the late 1960's. Do not read this book if you are looking for hard core mental health diagnosis or a current picture of how mental hospitals are run today, it is in no waythe same.more
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.more
Girl Interrupted is the story of a woman, Susanna Kaysen's time spent in a mental institution for just over a year in 1967. Susanna voluntarily admits herself into McLean Hospital when she is 18 years old. She is sent there by her doctor because she is depressed and has also tried to commit suicide.While she is in the hospital you meet some very interesting, Lisa, Daisy, Polly, Cynthia and more. Each one is at their own level of mental illness. I felt as I was reading the book that sometimes these girls knew more about the difference between reality and that which was not real.It was interesting to see how they argued with their inner demons. Some of the girls receive special privileges such as being able to go out side the hospital for ice cream, coffee or just to go shopping. The author talks about the different privileges she is rewarded with and how some of the girls will escape when they have a chance.I now want to see the movie Girl Interrupted starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. The book is a very fast read and made me wonder about how our brains and minds really work.more
Kaysen was institutionalized for two years when she was 18. This account of her experiences living in a mental hospital is disjointed, with very short chapters taking glimpses of her life, in no particular order. The writing is very fluid and sharp - the descriptions of suffering through psychosis brilliantly told, but the book is far too brief, most of her life is simply skimmed over. Also, she continually tries to convince the reader she was wrongly placed in the mental hospital, but proudly recounts taking fifty aspirin to 'kill' part of her consciousness, stating how symbolic the action was, and how she started gnawing on her hand to make sure she had bones, because she had to convince herself she was a 'real' person. In the end, I am not sure what to make of this little book - but it is a fast read, and certainly interesting.more
In brief, the book describes a young woman's experience with the McLean mental hospital of the late 1960's. This is done with short chapters, each with a simple subject. The book is not a long one. As a person reads it, however, one might find one's self wondering if it isn't like a Blake poem: much depth under the simplicity of the language.Ms. Kaysen does not drop dark hints of things not said. She writes down a set of experiences and hands them to you, her reader. This transaction invites some thought. She wrote the book more than 20 years after the events. Publishing a book is not an afternoon's work, or at least wasn't in the early 90s; she was motivated to communicate. As I read, I looked for markers for who she had in mind as her reader. She selected from more than a year and a half's experiences, and 20 years of time to reflect on them, just this set of things. She wanted to tell me something when she did this. I want to hear her.Some of her messages are emphasized boldly. For example, there is a chapter "Calais is engraved on my heart", a quotation of Queen Mary. In the chapter, she presents her experience of a patient she calls Alice Calais. I think this name is surely chosen for the use of the quotation it affords; using a patient's real name is past unlikely. I think Ms. Kaysen has chosen to shout: "this is important" about what she describes, and what she describes is how a really seriously deranged person looked to her and her friends, even as they lived in a mental hospital themselves. We never find out what became of Alice. There's not even speculation. "Everything's relative" may have been her judgement and the fear of going where Alice was, was very evident. The last line of the chapter is "Don't forget it". Ms. Kaysen has not, and now she has told us too.Ms. Kaysen's use of pages from her hospital record interspersed with her chapter snapshots of experience is interesting: she shows you how it lived and how it was recorded. The contrast is striking. She puts this contrast before you without comment.Ms. Kaysen tells us in some detail how she got into McLean, but rather less about how she got out. She questions her exit diagnosis of "recovered". A woman that can be worried by the later experiences she notes is as recovered as one gets, I think. With black humor she says herself: "I can honestly say my misery has been transformed into common unhappiness, so by Freud's definition I have achieved mental health". Indeed.She presents, finally, a comparison of an earlier and later viewing of the painting occasioning the book's title. It is here that I think she writes down her whole hope when she wrote the book: she says to the girl in the painting, "I see you". And then records a comic non sequitor reaction from her boyfriend when she tells him: "don't you see, she's trying to get out". He doesn't see.more
It was quite boring.more
I have to say, I was disappointed by this book. I'd seen the film, which had quickly catapulted its way into my 'favourites of all time', and was eager to read Kaysen's story for myself. Unfortunately, this was a case of the movie being better than the book, memoir or no memoir.I enjoyed the movie because it had style. It had a lot of humour, a lot of heart, whilst never shying away from the darkness and turbulent reality of living in a mental institution. There was a story, a chronology, and I cared deeply about each and every one of the women so that when bad things happened, I was devastated, and when good things happened, I smiled too. Being manic depressive myself, I related to them in their spirited and joyful moments as well as in their miserable and frightened ones.Kaysen's book, by contrast, just doesn't work that way. It is extremely disjointed, with no chronology to speak of, and therefore rather confusing. The small, sometimes bizarre episodes skip between times and places, and are never long enough for the reader to become attached to anyone. The good and bad of these tormented lives doesn't have the same resonance, and so I ended up reading the whole book without being moved at all. I can see what Kaysen was trying to do - to show the reader how her mind was working, how images and memories and hallucinations melded into one whirlwind of madness, how time moves differently in an institution - but so much is lost this way that it almost cancels out its own meaning.On the other hand, some of the the descriptions of difficult concepts and experiences are brilliantly written. Moments of psychosis are evoked with brutal clarity, giving a vivid picture of the bizarre images and terrifying emotions that can overtake even the brightest minds.Ultimately though, this was an empty book for me. I found its style and construction interesting enough to write my A-level coursework on it, but like 'The Bell Jar' and 'Catcher in the Rye', those other beacons for alienated teens everywhere, it just didn't shift the earth for me. I haven't kept my copy and I'll be sticking to the movie in the future!more
I read this book in one sitting!Memoir of Kaysen's two year stay at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric institution in Massachusetts, when she was eighteen years old. Kaysen's memoir was made into a movie in 1999, starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.Kaysen writes a affecting account of her stay at McLean. No melodrama, just her observations are recorded. She has humanized a place that few people know about.Kaysen also gives the reader insight into the ravages of mental illness and the diagnosis and treatments in use at the time (1967).A moving account of a horrifying experience, elogquently told by a participant.(Read January 2002)more
This book captured my interest with its first sentence and held it right until the last page. I've been diagnosed with mental illness. I've stayed in psychiatric facilities. I share many experiences with the author, and I feel like I can relate to what she is saying. I've had similar "problems" with patterns--fabric designs, tiling, colors--that would confound or entrance me with a plethora of impertinent information. Things often hold either too much or not enough meaning for me to feel interested in them. And I share the same doubtful attitude, "is this really that crazy?"One thing that seems to be true is that when a person spends enough time in an institution, it reaches a point when a disorder is all they have left to identify with. It makes it difficult, if not impossible, to separate the diagnosis from the person.I'm glad someone had the courage to write about this. Someone who felt rejected by society or "shut out of life" was able to make a living for herself...by her own standards. To me, that's very comforting. I hope it inspires the rest of us who don't live the social norm.more
'Girl Interrupted' is a fascinating memoir, organised in a chaotic way that reflects Kaysen's life during the period she describes. This slim volume (it just stretches to 169 pages in the 1999 Virago edition) consists of a mixture of vignettes and photocopies of hospital records which simultaneously illuminate and contrast each other to give the reader an impression of a fragmented and occasionally nightmarish stay in a psychiatric hospital. Kaysen's history is fairly famous since the 1999 film of the same name starring Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder but the book is worth reading for its precise and strangely absorbing accounts of life in a 'parallel universe'.Kaysen's written style is simple, precise and evocative. Short chapters focus on key incidents, characters and reflections in an almost poetic and often darkly humorous manner. The vignettes are not organised chronologically, although they do begin by describing Kaysen's memory of the interview that resulted in her hospitalisation. Throughout the book Kaysen refers back to this episode, which she feels convinced consisted of a twenty minute interview and a promise of rest, but which resulted in an eighteen month stay in the McLean Hospital. Her half-hearted suicide attempt she describes as an attempt to kill the part of her who wanted to kill herself, and it is clear that she does not feel she needed to be institutionalised. The doctor comes across as patronising and overly analytical, imbuing a simple physical act Kaysen commits with undue psychological significance. It is clear that Kaysen accepted her committal, waiting for the taxi and signing herself in at the hospital, but the imperfections in the systems of 1967 that allowed her to be incarcerated after such a brief examination are also highlighted and encourage the reader to question the professionals' judgements.As the memoir progresses, the reader is introduced to a range of characters with brief summaries of their condition, progress and methods of coping with institutional life. The sense of time dragging on endlessly is captured perfectly in the monotony of 'checks' and cigarettes, watching and waiting, meds and curse words. Often we are given a focused account of a key incident from their incarceration. The characters are interesting and well-realised, although their histories, and often their futures, are under-developed, which leaves the reader wondering what really happened to them.Kaysen's history outside the hospital is also often unclear. She gets married and the marriage fails, but due to the unconnected nature of the book and the focus on the actual time spent in the institution, her relationships with her parents and her husband are sketchy, their characters absent from what is essentially an exploration of her history. This has frustrated some readers but it does not detract from the powerful nature of the central issues the book explores.The photocopies of hospital records which are interspersed throughout the book emphasise the clinical manner in which a very personal struggle was treated by the nurses and doctors. Although Kaysen is only occasionally explicitly critical of specific professionals, the whole system appears to be set up to follow routines, rules and drug programmes rather than to cure patients. As Kaysen's account veers between episodes it becomes apparent that being in hospital did not help her, except by giving her some respite from responding to people in the outside world. It did, however, encourage her to question her diagnosis as she clearly feels she is in a different category to inmates who receive shock-therapy or rub their faeces on their walls and bodies.As the book draws to a close, Kaysen begins to consider the differences between 'mind' and 'brain' and between 'mental illness' and 'difference', questioning whether she really met the criteria of the personality disorder she was diagnosed with - and whether those criteria are just. This is perhaps the most interesting part of the book as the reader is drawn into these questions and inspired to consider how fine that line between sanity and reality can be.Overall, this is a powerful and fascinating read which raises important issues. It is not to be confused with a self help guide as there is not great recovery scheme or advice, merely a sense that Kaysen was never really crazy, simply interrupted in the death throes of adolescence.more
In 1967, Susanna Kaysen was diagnosed with "borderline personality disorder" and sent to McLean's in Cambridge at the age of eighteen. She stayed there for nearly two years, and in short, non-chronological vignettes describes her life there and shortly after being released.Kaysen brings up questions about the definition of sanity - how do we know where the "border" is between sane and insane, especially when those definitions change over time? The disjointed narrative suited her account, but made it kind of hard for me to follow what was going on.more
Synopsis: In 1967, Susanna Kaysen is hospitalized after taking 50 aspirin and a session with a doctor whom she had never met. She was put into a taxi to McLean Hospital in Massachusetts - the same psychiatric hospital that housed Sylvia Plath, James Taylor, and Ray Charles. The story is intertwined with Kaysen's thoughts of how being hospitalized is like a parallel universe and narrative of the client's stay.Pros and Cons: I did see the movie before I read the book and I did enjoy it, so maybe that clouded my thoughts of the book because the book did not live up to my expectations. Don't get me wrong, it is still an excellent book and I really liked it, but not as much as the movie. I was hoping for more discussion on her stay and the other clients. Her thoughts were interesting and demonstrate what a smart and confused mind she had. It also gives a picture of what it was like to be diagnosed with mental illness in the 60's. I think it would be somewhat different, but eerily similar to get that diagnosis now. Recommended to read the book first and watch the movie second :)more
Considering all the hype, I was expecting more from this book. It was definitely easy to read and had some interesting detail when she told her story in narrative form and not technical jargon, but I never found myself identifying or really sympathizing with her. It seems her perogative is to blame everyone else for her problems and she shows no real compassion for others' positions. Not a book I will think about much in the future.more
Quick and easy read, I finished it in a few hours without meaning to. Could have stood to be a longer book. The most interesting parts are those where Kaysen talks about her thoughts, her inner world, and particularly the part where she disects her diagnosis. The books feels like a criticism of the system that locked her away for two years, but it's hard to see it as a strong criticism when she doesn't seem to express any anger at anyone, either the system or herself, nor talk about her perceptions of her time there and how it changed her, other then eluding to it in one anecdote near the end. While the introcpective parts were good, and a lot of the description was nice, I felt the characters of the other 'inmates' lacked depth, presumably because of the short format of the book. It could have used more descrption and more personal reflection on Kaysen's part as to her feelings and thoughs, as opposed to just the outlines of the anecdotes.more
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Reviews

I completed this on January 14th. It was an very quick read. read it in a day.
I like when she spoke about the other women in the hospital , that was fun and interesting but the end of the book was a bit boring.
I think that this is because I have watched the movie. Normally I prefer to read a book first.
It does not look anything like the movie.
more
I loved the plot, storyline.. a story that needs to be told.I really liked all the characters buy wish more information had been given about them. The book seems to mention them and add a little bit from time to time but just enough to keep you wondering and at times frustrated. The actual hospital, doctor notes added flavor to the whole book. I admit I picked it up and couldn't put it down, read through it two sittings but there was something lacking.I liked the perspective from the patient, the girl herself.The only problem I had was.. I wanted more information. It seemed to be too quick of a read for the story that it was. There has to be more info and happenings. I felt like the whole story was not told in a way. I am not sure how to rate this... I also wondered if our main character really had that severe of a mental issue...I know there were issues but that was a long time to be hospitalized. I guess that is why I thought the book should have been longer as she was in the hospital a long time. I did love the title!!!more
I really enjoyed the first half of this one. It was interesting and captivating and very well written. I like that Kaysen tells the story in a matter of fact way instead of rambling or whining. It was interesting reading about the lives of all the different people there and how they interacted with each other. I didn't enjoy the second half as much, though. It didn't really seem to tell us much; it was an awful lot of detail of mundane things. However, overall it was a good quick read, very intriguing and the writing is very good.more
Memoir of a lady in an insane asylum. Great and challenging short-read.more
I loved this book - when I got to the end I immediately turned back to the first page and started reading again.It describes a mental state and a way of life that most of us never see.Part of what fascinates me about this book is that regardless of what the author says, I think the diagnosis (of Borderline Personality Disorder) was spot on. The fact that she's looking through that lens - and that, frankly, you can't trust her to even know when she's dissembling - is what makes it more than just a straightforward memoir.more
Absolutely amazing. One of my favorite books that I've ever read. I own two copies of this book, one I have never touched except to purchase it and the other I have read so many times that it is in rare form compared to the books assembled in my collection. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone!!!!!!more
I just could not get into it. Fishished it -- but it was a struggle.more
I saw the movie before I even knew there was a book, I was very surprised at how much better the book is than the movie. This is one of my all time favorite books.more
I enjoyed very much reading this book (I read it in one afternoon, couldn't stop reading it!). The movie based on it is great, but it is very different from the book.The book is much softer and inside Susana Kaysen's head. I really liked that. The way she though things through and observed her surroundings was very nice. I also liked the questioning side of the book. Who is crazy? and, who gets to say who is sane and who insane?At the end she mentions how homosexuality was once considered a mental illness, and states that maybe her 'craziness' will one day be considered normal. I though this to be very beautiful. Definitively a good read. I recommend it.more
Quick read, good insight to being in a mental hospital during the 60s. Enjoyedmore
A most impressive read that takes the audience on a journey through the psyche of a depressed teenage girl stuck in a hospital for those with mental disorders. Kaysen paints a picture of her life back in the 60's and awes the reader with her lyrical writing. I loved this book. It moved me and her philosophical ponderings were quite interesting as well.more
About half of this book is devoted to straightforward anecdotes about everyday life in a mental hospital. These chapters are interesting and informative. Another quarter or so is dedicated to attempting to convince the reader that the author was committed (actually, she was a voluntary walk-in, but says she was tricked into it) on the strength of a thirty-minute doctor's interview. These chapters grow wearisome and annoying quickly. The rest of the book, and here's where I have real problems, is dedicated to pompous, arch diatribes on "the quality of the insanity, the day-to-day business of being nuts." Here are some illuminating excerpts: "Viscosity causes the stillness of disinclination; velocity causes the stillness of fascination." "A lethargic avalanche of synthetic thought can take days to fall." "It was my misfortune -- or salvation -- to be at all times perfectly conscious of my misperceptions of reality. I never 'believed' anything I thought or saw. Not only that, I correctly understood each new weird activity." Call me crazy, but all this sounds like bullshit. That last quote highlights something else very irritating about the author: her constant struggle to have it both ways. She craves the "insane" label so that she can deliver dull lectures on the subject ("Insanity comes in two basic varieties: slow and fast"), pal around with the fun-loving psych ward girls ("In a strange way we were free"), and think of herself as so preciously broken ("They [normal people] were all seventeen and miserable, just like me. They didn't have time to wonder why I was a little more miserable than most"). Yet her relationship with her condition is a definite love/hate-type thing. She constantly downplays her own diagnosis ("I knew I wasn't mad"), recasting it as a patriarchal society's punishment for a too-cool chick. She can't stand that her stay in an asylum gives her a disadvantage in a cockfight with a doctor: "He can say it because he's a doctor. If I said it, nobody would believe me." Isn't there supposed to be some benefit to a degree that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and twelve years of study? Shouldn't that mean your opinion matters a little more than that of an uneducated loony? At all times, the author exudes a snotty, bitchy aura. Of her diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, she sneers, "So these were the charges against me. I didn't read them until twenty-five years later." Take that, old man! She didn't even read them! "One of my teachers told me I was a nihilist. He meant it as an insult but I took it as a compliment." You go, girl! You go! "This was ME...I was not going to type term bills or sell au gratin bowls or do any other stupid things." Die...just die. When she finally does get a job, she has trouble following the dress code and rebels against the no-smoking rule. "I was the one person who had trouble with the rules. Everybody else accepted them. Was this a mark of my madness?" No, it's a mark of your bitchiness. The attempt to justify the one with the other is the hallmark of this book and, I find it impossible not to imagine, the hallmark of the author and the person.more
I LOVED this book and found it a very enjoyable read. It took me a day total to read it and I enjoyed every minute of it.more
After one three hour interview with a psychiatrist, 18-year-old Susanna Kaysen is hospitalized in 1967. It's a time when just being different and living outside societies preconceived notions can earn you the label of crazy. Susanna stays within the hospital for two years of her life and she describes her experience with crisp clarity. My immediate notion after reading this book was to compare it to the movie, which has more drama and a more direct and straightforward story arc, but lacks the disjointed beauty of the book and Susanna's often slyly humorous observations. The memoir is compose of short vignettes, which introduce the various people she meets, and is interjected with original documents from her records, along with observations on insanity and the entire psychiatric system. It's really a beautiful book that not only looks at the nature of mind, but how insanity was (and perhaps is) determined as much by gender as by one's actual mental state.more
This book is very good. It was harder to follow at first, but once you got into the story it made more sense. I really enjoyed all of the characters in the story. They all had a different distinct personality, and they all kind of moved to the same flow of being in the hospital. The end was especially great though, because when she started seeing all of the girls from the hospital, and where they have ended up in life. I would have never suspected that Lisa would have had a child, but she did. This story is especially interesting, because you see everyone's different viewpoints from staying in the hospital. I really enjoyed this book!more
I really enjoyed the quick read aspect of this book. While Susanna did indeed spend some time near the end of her book describing her specific illness it was not overwhelming by any means. I have never seen the movie so I can not make any comment as to the reflection between the two. The book includes paperwork from the mental hospital in which Susanna spent her 18th & 19th year; paperwork regarding diagnosis and treatment, etc.Basically, she made a creative little story of many characters with whom she shared the female mental ward with for those 18 months. It gave some insight into how life on a mental ward was for low risk mental patients in the late 1960's. Do not read this book if you are looking for hard core mental health diagnosis or a current picture of how mental hospitals are run today, it is in no waythe same.more
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.more
Girl Interrupted is the story of a woman, Susanna Kaysen's time spent in a mental institution for just over a year in 1967. Susanna voluntarily admits herself into McLean Hospital when she is 18 years old. She is sent there by her doctor because she is depressed and has also tried to commit suicide.While she is in the hospital you meet some very interesting, Lisa, Daisy, Polly, Cynthia and more. Each one is at their own level of mental illness. I felt as I was reading the book that sometimes these girls knew more about the difference between reality and that which was not real.It was interesting to see how they argued with their inner demons. Some of the girls receive special privileges such as being able to go out side the hospital for ice cream, coffee or just to go shopping. The author talks about the different privileges she is rewarded with and how some of the girls will escape when they have a chance.I now want to see the movie Girl Interrupted starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. The book is a very fast read and made me wonder about how our brains and minds really work.more
Kaysen was institutionalized for two years when she was 18. This account of her experiences living in a mental hospital is disjointed, with very short chapters taking glimpses of her life, in no particular order. The writing is very fluid and sharp - the descriptions of suffering through psychosis brilliantly told, but the book is far too brief, most of her life is simply skimmed over. Also, she continually tries to convince the reader she was wrongly placed in the mental hospital, but proudly recounts taking fifty aspirin to 'kill' part of her consciousness, stating how symbolic the action was, and how she started gnawing on her hand to make sure she had bones, because she had to convince herself she was a 'real' person. In the end, I am not sure what to make of this little book - but it is a fast read, and certainly interesting.more
In brief, the book describes a young woman's experience with the McLean mental hospital of the late 1960's. This is done with short chapters, each with a simple subject. The book is not a long one. As a person reads it, however, one might find one's self wondering if it isn't like a Blake poem: much depth under the simplicity of the language.Ms. Kaysen does not drop dark hints of things not said. She writes down a set of experiences and hands them to you, her reader. This transaction invites some thought. She wrote the book more than 20 years after the events. Publishing a book is not an afternoon's work, or at least wasn't in the early 90s; she was motivated to communicate. As I read, I looked for markers for who she had in mind as her reader. She selected from more than a year and a half's experiences, and 20 years of time to reflect on them, just this set of things. She wanted to tell me something when she did this. I want to hear her.Some of her messages are emphasized boldly. For example, there is a chapter "Calais is engraved on my heart", a quotation of Queen Mary. In the chapter, she presents her experience of a patient she calls Alice Calais. I think this name is surely chosen for the use of the quotation it affords; using a patient's real name is past unlikely. I think Ms. Kaysen has chosen to shout: "this is important" about what she describes, and what she describes is how a really seriously deranged person looked to her and her friends, even as they lived in a mental hospital themselves. We never find out what became of Alice. There's not even speculation. "Everything's relative" may have been her judgement and the fear of going where Alice was, was very evident. The last line of the chapter is "Don't forget it". Ms. Kaysen has not, and now she has told us too.Ms. Kaysen's use of pages from her hospital record interspersed with her chapter snapshots of experience is interesting: she shows you how it lived and how it was recorded. The contrast is striking. She puts this contrast before you without comment.Ms. Kaysen tells us in some detail how she got into McLean, but rather less about how she got out. She questions her exit diagnosis of "recovered". A woman that can be worried by the later experiences she notes is as recovered as one gets, I think. With black humor she says herself: "I can honestly say my misery has been transformed into common unhappiness, so by Freud's definition I have achieved mental health". Indeed.She presents, finally, a comparison of an earlier and later viewing of the painting occasioning the book's title. It is here that I think she writes down her whole hope when she wrote the book: she says to the girl in the painting, "I see you". And then records a comic non sequitor reaction from her boyfriend when she tells him: "don't you see, she's trying to get out". He doesn't see.more
It was quite boring.more
I have to say, I was disappointed by this book. I'd seen the film, which had quickly catapulted its way into my 'favourites of all time', and was eager to read Kaysen's story for myself. Unfortunately, this was a case of the movie being better than the book, memoir or no memoir.I enjoyed the movie because it had style. It had a lot of humour, a lot of heart, whilst never shying away from the darkness and turbulent reality of living in a mental institution. There was a story, a chronology, and I cared deeply about each and every one of the women so that when bad things happened, I was devastated, and when good things happened, I smiled too. Being manic depressive myself, I related to them in their spirited and joyful moments as well as in their miserable and frightened ones.Kaysen's book, by contrast, just doesn't work that way. It is extremely disjointed, with no chronology to speak of, and therefore rather confusing. The small, sometimes bizarre episodes skip between times and places, and are never long enough for the reader to become attached to anyone. The good and bad of these tormented lives doesn't have the same resonance, and so I ended up reading the whole book without being moved at all. I can see what Kaysen was trying to do - to show the reader how her mind was working, how images and memories and hallucinations melded into one whirlwind of madness, how time moves differently in an institution - but so much is lost this way that it almost cancels out its own meaning.On the other hand, some of the the descriptions of difficult concepts and experiences are brilliantly written. Moments of psychosis are evoked with brutal clarity, giving a vivid picture of the bizarre images and terrifying emotions that can overtake even the brightest minds.Ultimately though, this was an empty book for me. I found its style and construction interesting enough to write my A-level coursework on it, but like 'The Bell Jar' and 'Catcher in the Rye', those other beacons for alienated teens everywhere, it just didn't shift the earth for me. I haven't kept my copy and I'll be sticking to the movie in the future!more
I read this book in one sitting!Memoir of Kaysen's two year stay at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric institution in Massachusetts, when she was eighteen years old. Kaysen's memoir was made into a movie in 1999, starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.Kaysen writes a affecting account of her stay at McLean. No melodrama, just her observations are recorded. She has humanized a place that few people know about.Kaysen also gives the reader insight into the ravages of mental illness and the diagnosis and treatments in use at the time (1967).A moving account of a horrifying experience, elogquently told by a participant.(Read January 2002)more
This book captured my interest with its first sentence and held it right until the last page. I've been diagnosed with mental illness. I've stayed in psychiatric facilities. I share many experiences with the author, and I feel like I can relate to what she is saying. I've had similar "problems" with patterns--fabric designs, tiling, colors--that would confound or entrance me with a plethora of impertinent information. Things often hold either too much or not enough meaning for me to feel interested in them. And I share the same doubtful attitude, "is this really that crazy?"One thing that seems to be true is that when a person spends enough time in an institution, it reaches a point when a disorder is all they have left to identify with. It makes it difficult, if not impossible, to separate the diagnosis from the person.I'm glad someone had the courage to write about this. Someone who felt rejected by society or "shut out of life" was able to make a living for herself...by her own standards. To me, that's very comforting. I hope it inspires the rest of us who don't live the social norm.more
'Girl Interrupted' is a fascinating memoir, organised in a chaotic way that reflects Kaysen's life during the period she describes. This slim volume (it just stretches to 169 pages in the 1999 Virago edition) consists of a mixture of vignettes and photocopies of hospital records which simultaneously illuminate and contrast each other to give the reader an impression of a fragmented and occasionally nightmarish stay in a psychiatric hospital. Kaysen's history is fairly famous since the 1999 film of the same name starring Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder but the book is worth reading for its precise and strangely absorbing accounts of life in a 'parallel universe'.Kaysen's written style is simple, precise and evocative. Short chapters focus on key incidents, characters and reflections in an almost poetic and often darkly humorous manner. The vignettes are not organised chronologically, although they do begin by describing Kaysen's memory of the interview that resulted in her hospitalisation. Throughout the book Kaysen refers back to this episode, which she feels convinced consisted of a twenty minute interview and a promise of rest, but which resulted in an eighteen month stay in the McLean Hospital. Her half-hearted suicide attempt she describes as an attempt to kill the part of her who wanted to kill herself, and it is clear that she does not feel she needed to be institutionalised. The doctor comes across as patronising and overly analytical, imbuing a simple physical act Kaysen commits with undue psychological significance. It is clear that Kaysen accepted her committal, waiting for the taxi and signing herself in at the hospital, but the imperfections in the systems of 1967 that allowed her to be incarcerated after such a brief examination are also highlighted and encourage the reader to question the professionals' judgements.As the memoir progresses, the reader is introduced to a range of characters with brief summaries of their condition, progress and methods of coping with institutional life. The sense of time dragging on endlessly is captured perfectly in the monotony of 'checks' and cigarettes, watching and waiting, meds and curse words. Often we are given a focused account of a key incident from their incarceration. The characters are interesting and well-realised, although their histories, and often their futures, are under-developed, which leaves the reader wondering what really happened to them.Kaysen's history outside the hospital is also often unclear. She gets married and the marriage fails, but due to the unconnected nature of the book and the focus on the actual time spent in the institution, her relationships with her parents and her husband are sketchy, their characters absent from what is essentially an exploration of her history. This has frustrated some readers but it does not detract from the powerful nature of the central issues the book explores.The photocopies of hospital records which are interspersed throughout the book emphasise the clinical manner in which a very personal struggle was treated by the nurses and doctors. Although Kaysen is only occasionally explicitly critical of specific professionals, the whole system appears to be set up to follow routines, rules and drug programmes rather than to cure patients. As Kaysen's account veers between episodes it becomes apparent that being in hospital did not help her, except by giving her some respite from responding to people in the outside world. It did, however, encourage her to question her diagnosis as she clearly feels she is in a different category to inmates who receive shock-therapy or rub their faeces on their walls and bodies.As the book draws to a close, Kaysen begins to consider the differences between 'mind' and 'brain' and between 'mental illness' and 'difference', questioning whether she really met the criteria of the personality disorder she was diagnosed with - and whether those criteria are just. This is perhaps the most interesting part of the book as the reader is drawn into these questions and inspired to consider how fine that line between sanity and reality can be.Overall, this is a powerful and fascinating read which raises important issues. It is not to be confused with a self help guide as there is not great recovery scheme or advice, merely a sense that Kaysen was never really crazy, simply interrupted in the death throes of adolescence.more
In 1967, Susanna Kaysen was diagnosed with "borderline personality disorder" and sent to McLean's in Cambridge at the age of eighteen. She stayed there for nearly two years, and in short, non-chronological vignettes describes her life there and shortly after being released.Kaysen brings up questions about the definition of sanity - how do we know where the "border" is between sane and insane, especially when those definitions change over time? The disjointed narrative suited her account, but made it kind of hard for me to follow what was going on.more
Synopsis: In 1967, Susanna Kaysen is hospitalized after taking 50 aspirin and a session with a doctor whom she had never met. She was put into a taxi to McLean Hospital in Massachusetts - the same psychiatric hospital that housed Sylvia Plath, James Taylor, and Ray Charles. The story is intertwined with Kaysen's thoughts of how being hospitalized is like a parallel universe and narrative of the client's stay.Pros and Cons: I did see the movie before I read the book and I did enjoy it, so maybe that clouded my thoughts of the book because the book did not live up to my expectations. Don't get me wrong, it is still an excellent book and I really liked it, but not as much as the movie. I was hoping for more discussion on her stay and the other clients. Her thoughts were interesting and demonstrate what a smart and confused mind she had. It also gives a picture of what it was like to be diagnosed with mental illness in the 60's. I think it would be somewhat different, but eerily similar to get that diagnosis now. Recommended to read the book first and watch the movie second :)more
Considering all the hype, I was expecting more from this book. It was definitely easy to read and had some interesting detail when she told her story in narrative form and not technical jargon, but I never found myself identifying or really sympathizing with her. It seems her perogative is to blame everyone else for her problems and she shows no real compassion for others' positions. Not a book I will think about much in the future.more
Quick and easy read, I finished it in a few hours without meaning to. Could have stood to be a longer book. The most interesting parts are those where Kaysen talks about her thoughts, her inner world, and particularly the part where she disects her diagnosis. The books feels like a criticism of the system that locked her away for two years, but it's hard to see it as a strong criticism when she doesn't seem to express any anger at anyone, either the system or herself, nor talk about her perceptions of her time there and how it changed her, other then eluding to it in one anecdote near the end. While the introcpective parts were good, and a lot of the description was nice, I felt the characters of the other 'inmates' lacked depth, presumably because of the short format of the book. It could have used more descrption and more personal reflection on Kaysen's part as to her feelings and thoughs, as opposed to just the outlines of the anecdotes.more
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