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Girl, Interrupted Paperback – April 19, 1994

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Editorial Reviews Review

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.

From Publishers Weekly

Kaysen's startling account of her two-year stay at a Boston psychiatric hospital 25 years ago was an eight-week PW bestseller.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 19, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679746048
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679746041
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (649 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

156 of 163 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
After reading a few of the comments, which appalled me, I feel the need to comment myself. I have read the book, listened to the tape, and now seen the movie. It is NOT trying to belittle or give an actual diagnosis. This book is to free oneself (a.k.a. Kaysen) from that inner questioning. The way in which the book is written is as if it was a self journey. She did not say that BPD was not a valid disorder. However, she did imply she was not sure how she was diagnosed with the label. If you are looking for a witty piece of literature to read this is for you. It is about the trials and tribulations of one mind that is written almost poetically. However, if you are trying to find a book that can help you to understand or cope with someone who was diagnosed "BPD" this is not the book for you. I was upset by how arrogant some readers were with their comments. It is to be hoped that most of you know the difference between self help and self expression.
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120 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
This slim memoir of a college student who suffers a "breakdown" honestly explores the details of mental illness, specifically "borderline personality" disorders. The account starts in a cold, almost frightening way: the first page is a copy of author Kaysen's case record folder. The reader then is given a fleeting description of the quiet moments leading up to Kaysen's lengthy hospitalization, and then is shown more official documents. This juxtaposition of the clinical with the personal highlights exactly what this memoir aims to express, that the darkness of mental disease has a face, a voice, that can be hidden by labels and diagnoses.

Kaysen's difficult and often terrifying journey - from the ordinary daughter of two achieving parents to a patient at a psychiatric hospital to, tentatively, a recovered young woman - is at once moving and beautiful. Even when the author asks questions that many before her have asked, she makes them seem fresh: "What is it about meter and cadence and rhythm that makes their makers mad?" She explores her illness at its most intimate moments and often follows her breaks with reality with detached physician reports, giving the reader both inside and outside perspectives. Through her interactions with other patients, Kaysen makes it clear that not everyone is as fortunate as she, since some cannot extricate themselves from their illness. Interestingly, despite once not believing that she really had bones inside her, Kaysen is not convinced she was mentally ill; if nothing else, this questions the internal changes we've been taught to accept as part of the onset of mental illness.

This book should not be read by anyone believing she is slipping toward insanity, but it might be a comfort to those who have already emerged.
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55 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Alex Nichols on August 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
I saw the movie version of "Girl Interrupted" when it came out last winter in spite of the mostly negative reviews it received. I loved it, mainly because it highlighted how women can support each other through the toughest of circumstances. I then bought and read the book. The differences between the two are startling: the setting and most of the characters are the same, but the tone is quite different.
The book is mesmerizing from its first paragraph. Susanna Kaysen uses deceptively simple language to describe her experiences and the people she knew during her 18 months stay at McLean's mental hospital. We slowly come to understand the lack of humanity showed to these girls, and the confused world they came from. Ms Kaysen's spare, poetic prose is interspersed with copies of actual hospital records written at the time she was a patient. The records appear as confused as the patients they detail. They seem to detail Susanna's social interactions and levels of ease with others, as if this alone depicts signs of strong mental health. Some of them appear incomplete and neglected. One is left to wonder what exactly the professionals at this hospital were looking for: mental health or acceptable female behavior?
The book is brief, and leaves the reader with more questions than answers. How have we changed in the way we view certain types of female behavior? How have we changed in the way we view those suffering from mental illnesses? Do patients need to be cured or does the world need to be cured?
This is a remarkable book. It manages to raise awareness without giving in to self-pity. I would recommend it to anyone.
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Harvey S. Karten on January 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Girl, Interrupted": Susanna Kaysen's Book is Superior to James Mangold's Movie
"Girl, Interrupted" is the true story of an 18-year-old woman who swallows 50 aspirin tablets and is hustled by her doctor to a loony bin after a superficial, 20-minute interview. She is told that she needs a rest and that she would be released in a couple of weeks. Instead, after voluntarily signing herself in, she winds up confined to the hospital against her will for eighteen months. The book and the movie focus almost exclusively on her period of internment.
What's missing from this film is the author's dark humor and revelatory insights into her ordeal. The book is better than the movie.
Look at how much insight and enjoyment you could get if you peruse the book!
"You have a pimple," said the doctor. "You've been picking it," he went on. Fine. You could have this dialogue in the movie. There's nothing witty about it: just a statement of fact.
Without narration, however, not much more could be done with this concept. But note how the author shows her sense of humor in the book: "The pimple had reached the stage of hard expectancy in which it begs to be picked. It was yearning for release. Freeing it from its little white dome, pressing until the blood ran, I felt a sense of accomplishment: I'd done all that could be done for this pimple."
Immediately following, there occurs this exchange with the doctor. "You need a rest," he announced. "Don't you think?" "Yes," I said. Not much here either. Nor would you have anything else in the movie version, at least not unless the sound track embraced her immediate thoughts, which point to an irony.
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