Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Girl, Interrupted
by Susanna Kaysen

Summary: 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.
I should preface this by saying I adore the movie adaptation of this story -- it's one of my favourites. So, some of my feelings on the book will be based on the unavoidable comparisons between the two.

Actually, I guess I'll get that bit out of the way first: personally, I think the movie was better and not just because I loved it first. The movie adds more of a plot to the story, a definite beginning, middle, and end to it -- it strings together all these little anecdotes of Susanna's into this cohesive thread and expands on them. The people in the memoir become fully fleshed out characters in the movie (like Lisa and Daisy and Polly and Georgina -- the movie gives more depth to their stories than Susanna was able to capture on the page).

It does change some things too, but not in a way that ruins the story being told or in a way that requires suspension of disbelief. Basically, the movie got under my skin more than the book did, which is rare.

The book itself was quite good but because it's a memoir, it's very limited. She's just telling her truth and it's the story the way Susanna wants it to be seen so the most interesting parts or things the reader might want to know more about, we don't get to because those aren't parts of her story she felt like sharing or felt should be explained more.

And it wasn't told in a very linear way. It would jump back and forth randomly -- like it would mention someone died in one chapter but then that person would pop up again later because it's not chronological. Her medical notes are included, but half of them were like trying to read hieroglyphics.

The writing was decent mostly but towards the end, it got a bit more she was struggling to explain the thing she wanted to say so she'd try to explain it via long-winded metaphors that go on for pages and didn't hold my interest. Parts of it were really well written though, and I could relate to the things she talked about so well.

I'm glad I read the book. As much as I adore the movie, because it's based on a true story to what extent it was true. I don't feel like it educated me about mental illness much really -- which I suppose may be a good thing, because maybe it means I grew up in a generation that was a bit more aware than the time Susanna grew up (at least, I hope it means that).

This review is kind of a hot mess because my thoughts are so jumped given the movie comparisons and the subject matter. I guess it could be summed up as this: the book was a good, uncensored account of a 60's mental hospital. Definitely worth reading, but as memoirs go it wasn't perfect. The movie was better, but different, and relatively faithful to the story.

I'd rate it 3 stars out of 5.


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