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Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Girl, Interrupted (original 1993; edition 1994)

by Susanna Kaysen

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5,04485894 (3.6)88
Title:Girl, Interrupted
Authors:Susanna Kaysen
Info:Vintage (1994), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library, Owned books, In my apartment, Read in 2012
Tags:read, read in 2012, own, non-fiction, autobiography, psychology

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Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen (1993)


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The title of this book is taken from a Vermeer painting, Girl Interrupted At Her Music, which forms the last chapter to Kaysen's reflections on her time in a treatment center for mental illness. She had voluntarily admitted herself there for depression.The time she was in treatment was in the late 60's but she wrote the book in 1993. Most of the book is in the present tense but other chapters are in the past tense as Kaysen tries to understand what she was going through earlier on. She tries to use humor to describe her feeling of emotional detachment but this only serves to illustrate that she is still not completely free from the illness. Using humor to illustrate mental illness is never a positive sign of mental health generally. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a work of fiction by someone who worked, for a time, in a mental institution in a non-clinical capacity. I would not recommend this book to high school students, due to the way Kaysen herself describes her illness. Kaysen includes some of her own redacted chart notes where people had given their own observations in addition to her own point of view in the chapter. She notes in passing that Ray Charles and James Taylor were also at the same clinic for treatment. I'm glad to have read the book although it made me feel very uncomfortable since I could tell that it would be some time before she became functionally independent (2 years in total for the healing process to take hold). Kaysen in the considers herself Jewish and atheist in the book. ( )
  sacredheart25 | Aug 14, 2014 |
"The only way to stay sane is to go a little crazy."

After a phone call to her boyfriend to advise him of her impending suicide, Susan swallowed 50 aspirin then remembered her mother asking her to pick up milk and headed for the store. Her halfhearted suicide attempt, she states, was not an attempt at death but rather an attempt at partial suicide to get rid of the part of herself that no longer wished to live. A year later on June 15, 1967, she has an appointment with a new psychiatrist and twenty minutes later she’s agreeing to a two week stay at McLean, a psychiatric hospital, for a rest the psychiatrist insists she needs. She remains there until she’s eventually discharged on January 3, 1969.

'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 were stripped down to the bare bones of our selves.'

Girl, Interrupted is a collection of nonlinear essays that tell of her time spent at McLean hospital. She describes in detail the constant room checks, the punishments, the medications and treatments, the hovering nurses and how their memories of privacy quickly became a thing of the past. The writing is simplistic but powerful and quietly brings to life the claustrophobic horrors of being incarcerated. What was truly startling to me though was the ease in which Susan found herself in this position. Twenty minutes spent with a new psychiatrist and he quickly classified her as having Borderline Personality Disorder and is putting her in a taxi to the local mental hospital. The same hospital that at one time housed Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton and even Sylvia Plath.

'...my discharge sheet, at line 41, Outcome with Regard to Mental Disorder, reads "Recovered."'

These essays are not only a glimpse into life inside a mental institution but are an insightful look into “recovery”. Borderline personality disorder isn’t something that someone can be cured of so her recovery is more or less watching her come to terms with her disorder and learning how to live with it. Girl, Interrupted is a distressing read but one that is replete with immense strength and perseverance. ( )
  bonniemarjorie | May 20, 2014 |
" 'Instability of self-image, interpersonal relationships, and mood... uncertainty about long term goals or career choice...' Isn't this a good description of adolescence? Moody, fickle, faddish, insecure: in short, impossible" (152). ( )
  JordanCorinne | Apr 2, 2014 |
A fascinating glimpse into the life of a mental institution's ward of teen-aged girls during the 1960's. The story is true, and chapters are interspersed with pages from the author's intake, therapy, medical, and discharge records. ( )
  wareagle78 | Mar 21, 2014 |
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. Published by Vintage books. 168 pages.

Book Type: Biography

Summary: Susanna Kaysen went to a doctor one time and was only there for maybe 15 minutes and the doctor had made a decision and sent her off to the hospital. This was the first time meeting with the doctor and he sent her to the mental hospital. Since she was picking at a pimple and she was tired since she got up early to travel across town to get to the appointment he thought she needed admitted to the mental hospital. While in the mental hospital she meet quite a few girls that had different problems. At one point in the book Susanna was talking of committing suicide and imaging herself dead. At the end it talks about when the girls got out of the hospital. Susanna still kept in touch with her roommate, Georgina. Susanna was married and had a rich husband which they went on many trips together. When they went to look at some paintings, Susanna saw a painting that she had seen 16 years earlier but a lot had changed about it. The girl in the painting was sad. She was young and distracted and her teacher was bearing down on her trying to get her to pay attention. But she was looking out trying to see someone who would see her. She read the title which was Girl Interrupted at Her Music. Which she related back to her life and how it was interrupted at 17 years old when she went to the hospital with a diagnosis of character disorder. She basically saw herself in that painting and related it back to her life and how she was trying to get out, just like the girl in the painting. Where you see yourself and others only imperfectly and seldom.

Response: This book was hard to follow. There was a lot of characters in the book and it was hard to keep up with who was doing what. I could not understand how the doctor was so quick to admit Susanna into the mental hospital and not having very good reasons. The fact that this happened to a girl and there wasn't anything wrong with her scares me on why doctors are falsely admitting patients.
  singleton2012 | Feb 20, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679746048, Paperback)

When reality got "too dense" for 18-year-old Susanna Kaysen, she was hospitalized. It was 1967, and reality was too dense for many people. But few who are labeled mad and locked up for refusing to stick to an agreed-upon reality possess Kaysen's lucidity in sorting out a maelstrom of contrary perceptions. Her observations about hospital life are deftly rendered; often darkly funny. Her clarity about the complex province of brain and mind, of neuro-chemical activity and something more, make this book of brief essays an exquisite challenge to conventional thinking about what is normal and what is deviant.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:40 -0400)

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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--as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary. Kaysen's memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a "parallel universe" set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties. Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.… (more)

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