Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen (1993)
Non-Fiction | Memoir
“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.”
pooled ink Review:
For many of us, the hospital was as much a refuge as it was a prison. Though we were cut off from the world and all the trouble we enjoyed stirring up out there, we were also cut off from the demands and expectations that had driven us crazy…In a strange way we were free. We’d reached the end of the line. We had nothing more to lose. Our privacy, our liberty, our dignity: All of this was gone and we were stripped down to the bare bones of ourselves.
Non-fiction is incredibly hit or miss for me, hence why it’s perhaps the smallest category of reviews on my blog, but I’d seen the movie, I found the book for sale at a library fundraiser, and the moment I opened the book I lost track of time.
Cynthia was particularly upset. “They do that to me!” she cried. It was true that they did tie you down and put something in your mouth when you had shock, to stop you from biting your tongue during convulsion.
Lisa was angry too, but for another reason. “Don’t you see the difference?” she snarled at Cynthia. “They have to gag him, because they’re afraid people will believe what he says.”
We looked at him, a tiny dark man in chains on our TV screen with the one thing we would always lack: credibility.
Girl, Interrupted is a raw and simply honest confession of time spent in a mental hospital in the 1960s as Susanna Kaysen reflects on her time there. She explores her own memories of the experience, copies of doctors’ notes from her files are included periodically throughout the story in a glimpse of the “official” recordings of the experience, and it’s woven with her current voice combining the two often conflicting tales from a viewpoint that has deepened with time. The book is brief, a touch flighty, yet focused and it spans years without missing a beat. It bounces across time and topic and thought uncaring for anything linear or strict yet the rhythm couldn’t have been more sensical as it flowed with insight, humor, heartache, and genuine contemplation that casually attempts to riddle out the truth of self.
The view from his office…was restful: trees, wind, sky. I was often silent. There was so little silence in our ward…It calmed me to sit in his office without having to explain myself. But he couldn’t leave well enough alone. He started asking me, “What are you thinking?”…Then he began to tell me what I might be thinking…Eventually he said so many wrong things about me that I had to set him right, which was what he’d wanted in the first place. It irritated me that he’d gotten his way. After all, I already knew what I felt; he was the one who didn’t know.
Frequently I felt that Kaysen had a stronger grasp upon the makings of her mind than any conventional authority managed to suss out. Was she crazy? Did she belong in that ward? Even Kaysen deliberates both sides and concludes, rightly so, that one will never truly know. The mind is perhaps the most complex facet of life, and Kaysen points out how “disorders” come and go as they are discovered, disproved, certified, and fall out of vogue. To me this book did not try to rage against the system, it didn’t set out to alter events that have passed, it is simply a woman sharing an experience and making good points whilst pondering the truth of it all.
Some people won’t enjoy the jumps in subject that comes with each chapter. They won’t enjoy the sometimes surface-level of character insight provided as residents/patients come and go. And the fact that no conclusion is inarguably determined by its end might put yet others off. But I love it. It was like a journal, with only the relevant pages ripped out and re-typed to support her reflections.
Intimate, honest, and enthralling it trapped me into existential musings of which I often ponder myself. Girl, Interrupted is an important slice of life both to reveal history first-hand and to turnover points relevant yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can’t answer the real question. All I can tell them is, It’s easy.
Purchase Here: Girl, Interrupted
Kaysen was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kaysen attended high school at the Commonwealth School in Boston and the Cambridge School before being sent to McLean Hospital in 1967 to undergo psychiatric treatment for depression. It was there she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She was released after eighteen months. She later drew on this experience for her 1993 memoir Girl, Interrupted, which was made into a film in 1999, her role being played by Winona Ryder.
1999 Movie Trailer