A few years ago, I watched the film adaptation of Girl, Interrupted and ever since I’ve been wanting to give the book a go. I’ve been very much in a non-fiction mood recently and I’ve been taking advantage of this and reading a fair few non-fiction books on my shelves, including this memoir from Susanna Kaysen! Thoughts below.
This memoir is about Susanna Kaysen’s time in a psychiatric hospital in the late 1960s when she was 18 years old. It contains some of her medical records from her time at the hospital as well as personal anecdotes about her experience and the fellow teenage girls on her ward. My introduction to her story was through watching the film adaptation a few years ago which I absolutely loved and knew that I wanted to read her original account at some point.
It’s quite a short book and I got through it in a day. This felt pretty good after a bit of a reading slump and definitely a good choice of book before starting the pretty lengthy Anna Karenina! The way it was written also lent itself to being a quick read. It jumped between rather short anecdotes to medical records, the former of which weren’t chronological but this was made clear for the reader. It was interesting to see how the girls were all treated in hospital and by other health professionals and their families, even more so because it happened in the 60s. It seems very different to what happens now yet we still have so much stigma and many problems in how mental health is treated in society.
From what I remember, I felt more connected to the film. However, I did a little research after finishing the book and they did dramatise aspects and add in scenes which never happened in Kaysen’s real life. I completely understand changing the way something is portrayed in film – books and film are completely different mediums so it makes sense. However, adding in scenes to either glorify or dramatise someone’s mental illness is a problem and I don’t appreciate that being done as it was in this situation. This is interested to me, especially since I did connect with the film more and I thought the portrayals felt very ‘accurate’ (always a strange thing to say as, in this case, what’s accurate for one person may not seem it to another) and I saw myself and my own struggle with mental illness in many of the characters.
Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the jumping between medical records and anecdotes. It felt a little as though the medical records had been put in there as evidence and they didn’t really add anything to the ‘story’ itself. These short chapters, though they made it easy to read, didn’t lend themselves to connecting well with all the people mentioned, including Kaysen herself. There were some moments I found quite impactful however on the whole it wasn’t something I found to be a brilliant memoir. I think it’s interesting to a point but something about it for me just fell flat.
I’m definitely glad I’ve read the book but it won’t be one I go back to again. If you are interested in her story or an individual’s account of a psychiatric hospital then I recommend it but I think others out there could be more insightful.
I hope you have a lovely Easter weekend if you celebrate it! Stay safe.