Girl, Interrupted

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...

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Title:Girl, Interrupted
Author:Susanna Kaysen
Rating:
ISBN:0679746048
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:169 pages

Girl, Interrupted Reviews

  • E
    Oct 06, 2007

    While Susanna Keysen composes some very poetic essays offering alternative and sometimes beautiful perspectives in her autobiography, her general tone is very, very defensive. Granted discussing whether or not one suffered from a mental illness can never be easy, but the book seems to be her manifesto for proving that she wasn't really borderline, as her therapist diagnosed.

    I don't know enough about Borderline Personality Disorder to judge - I agree that it seems women are disproportionately di

    While Susanna Keysen composes some very poetic essays offering alternative and sometimes beautiful perspectives in her autobiography, her general tone is very, very defensive. Granted discussing whether or not one suffered from a mental illness can never be easy, but the book seems to be her manifesto for proving that she wasn't really borderline, as her therapist diagnosed.

    I don't know enough about Borderline Personality Disorder to judge - I agree that it seems women are disproportionately diagnosed with it, and a conservative environment could easily allow for any non-conformist woman to be blamed for her own marginalization and labeled insane. However, while Keysen seems to want to be seen as simply non-conformist in an oppressive time, she was in some ways destructively so by her own admission. She gave herself bruises, she attempted suicide, she tried to break into her own hand convinced it was a monkey's.

    The early Sixties sounded like a terrible time to be a woman, and many of the mental institutions were anything but conducive to healing. Nevertheless, I don't buy the defensive rebel's libertarian spiel that they should just be left alone to hurt themselves, uninterrupted. Perhaps Susanna wanted to criticize her diagnosis or how she was treated, but claiming that her acts of self-harm warranted no such "interruption" with treatment seems rather dramatic and ungrateful. The adolescent glorification of the misunderstood, self-harming Plath-like waif is both dangerous and very selfish, and there are scores of books and songs and films to help this glorification along.

    I hope girls who read this book are smart enough not to fall for it, but can still enjoy her moments of poetic greatness.

  • Erin
    Feb 05, 2008

    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.

  • Ellabella
    Feb 07, 2008

    We're told not to, but I sometimes do judge a book by its cover. At least once in my life, it has paid off. I first read this book because I saw it laying under the desk of a girl in my French class in 8th grade and was immediately attracted to it- the constrast of blue against white and the separation and duality of the girl between.

    It was beautiful and strange and thought-provoking and somehow irrationally felt as close to me as some crazy friend who'd been trapped in my own brain for thirteen

    We're told not to, but I sometimes do judge a book by its cover. At least once in my life, it has paid off. I first read this book because I saw it laying under the desk of a girl in my French class in 8th grade and was immediately attracted to it- the constrast of blue against white and the separation and duality of the girl between.

    It was beautiful and strange and thought-provoking and somehow irrationally felt as close to me as some crazy friend who'd been trapped in my own brain for thirteen years. The author at once seemed to be a part of me that hadn't yet been able to speak, and a complete stranger who frightened and compelled me.

    I've returned to it time and time again and each time have found new truths and new absurdities. It so accurately and curiously expresses the truths of a mind in distress and the questioning of a woman in the making (and particularly of a woman approaching adulthood in the 1960's, while psychology was still a relatively new field). I lead a book club discussion of it some years ago and was startled at the stark honesty that it inspired in us as we talked, regardless of whether we actually liked the book or not.

    To me, the book has nearly no relation to the movie other than the slight similarities between the premises. Where the movie may introduce you to interesting characters and attempt to give you a linear story, it has no way to bring you into the complex and contradictory inner world of the author.

    I will recommend to anyone to give it a try, because I believe what you discover in it speaks not of the book itself, but of who you as the reader are.

  • Nataliya
    May 03, 2010

    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.

  • Tara Lynn
    Jan 13, 2011

    Saw the movie, loved Angelina in it. Now I'll tackle the book.

    Update: Finished the novel. I'm now convinced that the publication and fantastic reception of this novel was probably a great case of timing. Kaysen's account of her stay in McLean Hospital is a captivating look into her mental state during her 2 year stay. However, I've got to say that if she had stayed elsewhere, or tried to publish her account now, it probably wouldn't have been received as favorably. For the most part, many of he

    Saw the movie, loved Angelina in it. Now I'll tackle the book.

    Update: Finished the novel. I'm now convinced that the publication and fantastic reception of this novel was probably a great case of timing. Kaysen's account of her stay in McLean Hospital is a captivating look into her mental state during her 2 year stay. However, I've got to say that if she had stayed elsewhere, or tried to publish her account now, it probably wouldn't have been received as favorably. For the most part, many of her intermittent stories read as a desperate cry for attention, ANY attention. Her parents are NEVER mentioned, and I find it odd to see that the novel has no seeming beginning or end. We're given a VERY brief description of her original interview, as well as interesting reproductions of her case files, but her rambling thoughts throughout give no impression of how she actually responded to her therapy.

    I'm sad to say that I honestly expected more. Susanna's desperate hero-worship of her friend Lisa, her wild behavior, and her desperate attempts to receive attention from anyone tell me that far from requiring a hospital stay, she needed a hug, some coffee, and a good friend/parent to tell her that she was being an idiot about her life. I've seen more self-actualization on some Twitter ramblings than I saw in Girl, Interrupted. Not worth the read.

  • Paul Bryant
    Apr 19, 2014

    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
    Feb 03, 2015

    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)*
    Feb 03, 2015

    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)
    Feb 06, 2015

    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.

  • Sh3lly ✨ Bring on the Weird ✨
    Dec 13, 2015

    I read this book around the time the movie came out. I remember liking it, but not loving it. I'm curious to maybe do a re-read one day. I kind of felt like it was one of those books that got a lot of hype and didn't live up to it. I liked the movie. If I ever do a re-read, I'll add to this. I don't remember much, to be honest, except that it didn't blow me away. I bought the book and I ended up over the years donating it to a thrift store. So, I must not have liked it that much. :P