Girl, Interrupted – Susanna Kaysen

The memoir of Susanna Kaysen herself, set in a McLean Hospital in 1967 where she was treated for depression and borderline personality disorder (BPD) for two years.

This novel is extremely honest, featuring documents from her stay at McLean Hospital, which a lawyer helped her to retrieve, it tells the story of how the author went to a session with a psychiatrist she had never seen before at the age of 18, and after that ended up in hospital for two years.

I read the book very quickly, in one day, which felt strange as the story spans over two years. I suppose though because life in the hospital is very repetitive it can seem like a short amount of time, which is portrayed through the authors narrative.

Despite being taken to the mental hospital, Susanna Kaysen is seemingly one of the sanest people in there, even with her depression, BPD and confusion with reality. But the author makes it seem as though everyone in the world is suffering from something, but we all have different ways of dealing with our problems:

“Twenty aspirin, a little slit alongside the veins of the arm, maybe even a bad half hour standing on a roof: We’ve all had those.”

Lisa is the ringleader of the group and almost competes to be the most mentally ill, with her diagnosis of a sociopath which is a personality driven by self-interest. Georgina is Susanna’s roommate who suffers from depression. Polly has been disfigured by a fire she started herself and is forever dealing with the emotion behind her disfigurement. Kaysen constantly ensures that the reader understands that she is the sanest and in a way she is sometimes judgmental about the other girls on the ward.

There are massive amounts of denial within this memoir, in which Susanna does not believe she has borderline personality disorder, which can be confusing. As a reader, I wasn’t always sure if the book was supposed to be about her wrongful admission to the hospital or about her dealing with the mental illness. However, if either of these is true it tells an important story about a young woman’s stay in a 1960s mental hospital, which still used electric shock therapy amongst other harrowing treatments.

The honesty of this book is one of the best aspects, the way she portrays a strong disinterest in such an emotionless way really conveys the bland life she lived on the ward as well as showing the detachment associated with depression.

“It was only part of myself I wanted to kill: the part that wanted to kill herself.”

About the author: Susanna Kaysen

  • Born on November 11 1948 in Massachusetts.
  • Girl, Interrupted was published in 1993 and adapted into a film in 1999.
  • She has written five novels in her lifetime.

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