Susanna Kaysen: Girl Interrupted

Interesting if a little flawed.

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JPOC Rating

Seven out of ten.

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My Review

In 1967, at the age of 18, Susanna Kaysen was admitted to a hospital for the mentally ill. She stayed there for a little under two years and this book is a series of essays about her time in the hospital.

It is not a diary and there is little in the way of continuity from one part of the book to another but this book is about the experiences of hospitalisation rather than being a narrative of a period of time.

The book opens a window on life as seen by a patient in a psychiatric hospital and what we see through the window is highly revealing. While the author and her fellow patients may have appeared to be behaving strangely, unpredictably or crazily, they had reasons for what they did that seemed fine to them at the time.

Less convincing are the parts where the author tries to talk about the rights and wrongs of sending her to the hospital. She seems to want to make the point that she was going through the difficult transition from being a girl to being a woman and was having a harder time than most people. She feels that this does not justify the way that she was sent to, and kept in, the hospital. That may be the case but, whereas the description of her time is the hospital is rightly one person's story, the rights and wrongs of her being sent there needs an objective input to be convincing.

The writing style is clear and direct and the whole book is very readable. While it is quite possible to read this book in one sitting, I'd not recommend that. You will get a lot more out of it if you slow down and take a couple of days to finish it and have time to think between every few chapters.