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Nervous System: Or, Losing My Mind in Literature (2007)

by Jan Lars Jensen

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1252163,361 (3.71)5
Within the literature of madness, there has never been a memoir as wrenching and mordantly humorous as Jan Lars Jensen's Nervous System. A quiet librarian who struck publishing gold with his first novel, Jensen felt as if something had come unhinged in his mind. The rush of ideas and language felt like losing, willy-nilly, a chunk of his mental stability. But true madness didn't come until the countdown to his book's release into the world. A few months after selling his novel to a major American publisher, Jensen woke in a psych ward bed, only to find the ideas that had inspired him now roamed through waking nightmares that deranged him. Just as literature prompted Jensen's slide into paranoid obsession, so did it help him rebuild and recover. Whether he was groping to comprehend James Herriot's veterinarian stories through a haze of antipsychotic medication, deciphering his psychiatrist's references to Patrick O'Brian novels, or attempting to steer his recalcitrant mind toward sleep with a history of logging, books and writing defined Jensen's world. This memoir recounts Larsen's extraordinary experience. Terrifying yet tender, darkly humorous and deeply moving, Nervous System is a tale of literary madness like no other.… (more)
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I wasn't quite sure what to expect and was a little surprised to read a personal account about an author and his descent into a nightmarish psychotic episode. Mental illness, with all of its taboos and stigma, is not an easy topic to broach. Jensen strikes the right cord between fact, exaggeration and sincerity: without dwelling on the confusion and pain that he must have felt, he still communicates with honesty his experience. It's neither an alarmist nor a sugary account - although I suspect the darker moments must have been glossed over to keep the read accessible. What's next is difficult to tell, however - we don't know what to expect for the future and this might make this testimony a bit weak for readers wanting to know more or struggling with similar ailments.
Overall an authentic book which can open the discussion to an often silenced disease. ( )
  Cecilturtle | Nov 5, 2013 |
Librarian Jan Lars Jensen just sold his first novel - a science fiction story set in future India - to a publisher. Excellent news to any writer, but as he revised the story for his editor, he grew increasingly convinced that his novel - which featured the gods of Hindu mythology - will anger the Hindus, lead to the collapse of his life, and the destruction of the world.

While it's natural for most authors to be apprehensive about an upcoming release of a new novel, Jensen lost his grip on reason and reality. He was unable to sleep and is highly paranoid. Convinced that the only way to fix the situation is that he died, a suicide attempt followed and Jensen woke up in a psych ward. The ward did little to curb his paranoid; it merely provided additional nooks and crannies to feed it.

"Nervous System" is Jensen's account of his swift decline in mental health, and his much slower recovery. While mental illness isn't funny (especially if you have it), Jensen is blunt and candid about the various conditions of his mind throughout the whole incident. His memoirs are readable and conversational, even if the topic is usually avoided in polite company.

There were many nights when he is convinced that there is a sniper or assassin outside, waiting for a chance to kill him. What's comical about that situation is how resigned Jensen is to his eventual fate, and how concerned he is that none of his fellow patients are at any time, between him and a possible bullet. He charts his relationship with his doctors, fellow patients, and his wife.

There was no angel choir or great revelation when Jensen won the battle with his mind, just a gradual healing and acceptance of "normal"... with the occasional pep talk to himself that there is no reason to give in to any renewed paranoia.

Most memoirs are about how a person had an awful life but became famous and awesome in spite of it. We all want to be inspired to be great, especially when our lives are nowhere half as awful as people who merit getting their own biography. Perhaps that's why many of us will not be immortalised in a book; there's nothing unusual or remarkable about finding your own rut and staying there.

"Nervous System" will probably find an audience with people who are interested in mental illness from an eloquent patient's perspective, or for writers who believe they are this close to going crazy. At least the writers can rest assured in the fact that if they survive a lapse in mental health, they can write an entertaining book about it.
1 vote tarlia | Feb 17, 2008 |
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This book is dedicated to my wife Michelle, and to Michael Kandel, two people who rose above.
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Lying in bed, I waited for my killer.
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Within the literature of madness, there has never been a memoir as wrenching and mordantly humorous as Jan Lars Jensen's Nervous System. A quiet librarian who struck publishing gold with his first novel, Jensen felt as if something had come unhinged in his mind. The rush of ideas and language felt like losing, willy-nilly, a chunk of his mental stability. But true madness didn't come until the countdown to his book's release into the world. A few months after selling his novel to a major American publisher, Jensen woke in a psych ward bed, only to find the ideas that had inspired him now roamed through waking nightmares that deranged him. Just as literature prompted Jensen's slide into paranoid obsession, so did it help him rebuild and recover. Whether he was groping to comprehend James Herriot's veterinarian stories through a haze of antipsychotic medication, deciphering his psychiatrist's references to Patrick O'Brian novels, or attempting to steer his recalcitrant mind toward sleep with a history of logging, books and writing defined Jensen's world. This memoir recounts Larsen's extraordinary experience. Terrifying yet tender, darkly humorous and deeply moving, Nervous System is a tale of literary madness like no other.

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