Good morning Sunday Morning Review! I have missed writing my reviews lately, so today I am discussing one of my favorite books I read this summer!
This past year, I discovered the movie Girl, Interrupted only to become fascinated by the wild storyline. I started to do more research about the movie and was shocked to hear that the movie was based on a true book written by the main character herself, Susanna Kaysen. I had to immediately get my hands on her memoir, also titled Girl, Interrupted; so I marched down to my favorite place, Barnes & Noble, to find it. Surprisingly, I finished the book that day. So let’s get into it!
Although the plot is quite loose, it follows the central story of eighteen-year old Susanna Kaysen who is sent to a mental hospital— McLean Hospital— in the late sixties after an appointment with a psychiatrist she had never met. Her memoir follows her relationship with the other patients, staff, and her self discovery of mental illness and recovery. At the hospital, Susanna is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder which was rarely seen/ diagnosed in women during the time. Susanna struggles to accept her diagnosis but throughout the story she develops an understanding of her illness and how she can create a fulfilling and balanced life while acknowledging and managing her disorder.
I usually prefer fiction over nonfiction, but this memoir is definitely in my top 10 books list. Susanna’s storytelling is quite simple, which I actually love because it helps me get into the flow of reading and allows me to read a lot faster. Her writing reminds me a lot of Joan Didion’s— both writers get straight to the point while having talent for recalling and reciting immense, captivating detail. Even the physical layout of Girl, Interrupted reminded me of Didion’s The White Album. The books are sections into small chapters about one specific event and even the typewriter font (which I immediately noticed because I love fonts). Something that I can takeaway is that if you love Joan Didion you will like this book and probably other Kaysen books.
I was interested in getting a real insight into what it is really like in a mental hospital, because let’s be honest we have all thought this at least once in our lives. Although I am sure (and hope) that mental hospitals have improved since the sixties, some of Susanna’s experiences are exactly how I would have imagined and some are very different from my expectations. For example, I expected to see some ugliness in the treatment of the patients. These girls were watched constantly— while bathing and even going to the bathroom. The hospital’s psychiatrist would often fall asleep during appointments or have inappropriate relations with the girls. McLean Hospital was not set up for success, but luckily I saw some nice moments during Susanna’s stay. My favorite part was analyzing the relationships between Susanna and the other patients. It made me happy that Susanna made close friendships with some girls and even though they would often get into (harmless) trouble, she found a way to have fun while enduring the biggest challenge of her life. At the end, Susanna exclaims that she even kept in contact with some of the girls after she was released.
The only part I did not like was a small section at the end of the book where she discussed the science of the mind and mental illness. Maybe it is just a personal opinion that the science explanation did not interest me. I found it to abruptly slow the fast paced book once I got to the ending and it made a couple chapters tediously drag on. The book ended where Susanna was able to notice and accept her imperfections. I can’t exactly explain why, but when I ended the book I felt a little empty. I did not know why because Susanna got her happy ending, but I guess it was upsetting that many people similar to her don’t. Regardless, I felt proud of Susanna because she was able to pursue her passion in writing even while she severely struggled with BPD and depression. She is a good example of a person who strives towards her goals even if no one believes in her, which I believe made her into a strong minded person and I hope to become more confident in myself like Susanna is.