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The Outward Room

3.65  ·  Rating Details ·  256 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
The Outward Room is a book about a young woman’s journey from madness to self-discovery. It created a sensation when it was first published in 1937, and has lost none of its immediacy or its power to move the reader.

Having suffered a nervous breakdown after her brother’s death in a car accident, Harriet Demuth is committed to a mental hospital, but her doctor’s Freudian
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 19th 2010 by NYRB Classics (first published 1937)
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James Tatam If the teen enjoys reading then why not? Books shouldn't be kept from teens because they are considered "too hard to read" by an older audience.…moreIf the teen enjoys reading then why not? Books shouldn't be kept from teens because they are considered "too hard to read" by an older audience. That's snobbery at its finest. Teens can be good readers too; in fact, most are. (less)

Community Reviews

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Jan 18, 2014 Tony rated it really liked it
I have often, in reviews, dismissed a novel as being cinematic. But there is bad cinematic and there is good cinematic. In bad cinematic, the protagonist's friend (or uncle/girlfriend/karate instructor) knows people in organized crime, what they call it, who come as a deus ex machina to the protagonist's rescue. Or, right before the protagonist dies he manages to have sex for the first and only time and thus has an heir to tie a nice bow on the story in an epilogue.

The Outward Room is great cine
Another thought provoking read from the New York Review Books Classic list. This a beautifully delivered, simple and yet poignant story set against the backdrop of the Depression in New York.

The story of Harriet her battle with Mental Illness and the relationship she finds with John, a factory worker who takes her in. This gentle story is about the highs and lows of everyday life and finding joy and healing in simple pleasures. It's also a tale of self discovery and healing for Harriet, who is s
Oct 19, 2012 MG rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This novel is very good. It's written simply and with a quiet tenderness that moved me deeply. A woman escapes from a mental hospital and meets a kind, decent man who loves and cares for her. The characters hardly speak to each other but express their love in the movement of everyday life in Depression-era New York. She continues to suffer from deep sadness but heals slowly--by watching the morning sun shine through the window, by listening to the neighborhood children play. She watches for her ...more
Oct 12, 2014 Jenna rated it it was amazing
When I first heard about this book, I was excited to read it: who can deny the allure of the triumphant tale of a patient who escapes from an oppressive and ineffectual hospital, taking her destiny into her own hands? Initially I had doubts, though, that a sane man could write a truly convincing book from the perspective of a female psychiatric patient. Or rather, in light of the fact that mentally ill women are so frequently disenfranchised and stripped of their voices, I had qualms about the ...more
Jan 10, 2011 Tom rated it it was amazing
That I was expecting something depressingly awful to happen at any moment just shows how sensationalistic and overly dramatic most fiction is and how well it has shaped our expectations--and how removed from the lived daily life most of us lead. This novel has a quiet, understated decency, depicting the lives of a couple--particularly the woman--eking out a living during the Depression. Think William Maxwell, and you're on the right track. (Maxwell was also a contemporary of Brand's, but unlike ...more
Jul 01, 2011 J. rated it it was amazing
I happened upon The Outward Room by chance recently and added it to my reading list, near the top.

The story follows Harriet from her days at an institution where she was resigned in the aftermath of witnessing her older brother’s death. She escapes and, with almost no money, finds her way to New York, seeking normalcy for her life.

With barely enough money to survive a week, she seeks a job and fails. Forced to sell her only possession—a ring given to her by her brother—she manages for a few more
Jun 18, 2015 Amy rated it it was amazing
"What should she do? “To talk” “to talk,” no, not to give him knowledge, not to see death again. His eyes. Better to go now. For could he help her? How could she expect him to help her? His note. What could she do if she left? Another night perhaps and what then— There was no way. “Want to talk...” Her thoughts pried uselessly, caged, and she looked again at his note. His handwriting was strong; she grasped at any strength. Something would happen; even when there was no hope, something sometimes ...more
Dec 19, 2010 Edan rated it really liked it
I loved being in 1930s New York--the dark apartments with their soggy stairs; the courtyards filled with Italian children; the sweatshop the narrator briefly works in, cutting the threads off beautiful dresses. I enjoyed the realism of the story, and I found Harriet's child-like way with the world--after being in the hospital for so long--quite riveting, and surprising each time it came up.

I didn't, however, like the more associative, stream of consciousness writing that was braided into the str
Sep 22, 2016 Lizzie rated it really liked it
A sweet, odd novel originally published in 1937. Harriet is in a locked ward of an asylum since she had a nervous breakdown five years ago when her brother died in an accident. Her days are fenced in by the hospital routine, visits with her doctor, and interactions with other patients on the ward. Impulsively, she escapes and makes her way to New York.

The novel is about her return to life and how her heart opens with her return to the world. I felt a little cynical about the incredible luck with
Terry Pearce
Sep 25, 2016 Terry Pearce rated it really liked it
A beautiful, quiet, reflective novel that holds up moments in a chain, linking the heroine's incarceration in an institution to a path to life, and love, outside. This could have been even better were there not so many odd stream-of-consciousness diversions from the beautiful descriptions, but as it stands it's pretty damn good anyway.
Mar 15, 2016 Marija rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-classics
It is surprising that Millen Brand’s novel has fallen into relative obscurity. When I first came across this title and read the novel’s synopsis on the back cover, I was immediately reminded of a film starring Carroll Baker, Something Wild. When comparing the two stories, it’s easy to note the similarities between Brand’s 1937 novel and the 1961 film: a girl who experiences a shocking tragedy suffers from a nervous breakdown; she later runs away lost and alone, and in a moment of utter despair i ...more
Apr 27, 2012 Andy rated it really liked it
Somehow the idea of an asylum escapee trying to make it in The Big City is a lot more appealing than some rosy cheeked Career Girl trying to make a go of it. "The Outward Room" is all that and more, the literary equivalent to a sad Edward Hopper painting, i.e. "Automat" with the lonely girl in the cloche hat sitting all by herself in the diner, or his studies of the girl in night gown all by herself in her desolate afternoon tenement bedroom. Brand writes with a feminine touch, making the ...more
Sep 05, 2014 David rated it really liked it
I love when a book can be this plain and this quiet while still being highly emotionally evocative. It's masterful really. The book doesn't ride only off the emotional force tied to the underlying subject matter, though that is there. It doesn't pull cheap tricks either. The words are just set out there, plain. Somehow that all explodes inside the reader when the eyes run across those words. It might not be one of my most favorite books, but I was highly impressed.
Dec 22, 2015 Jalawa rated it really liked it
Beautiful love story! Refusing to let mental illness take over her life, I admired Harriet for this. 4 stars
Sep 05, 2010 Linda marked it as to-read
Thanks to Daniel@Boswell Books for the recommend. He recommends "Skippy Dies" in the same newsletter (and I so want to read that) that I know he has great taste!
Apr 20, 2015 Meagan rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Reading this book was a little bit like dreaming. Not a nightmare, or an exciting adventure dream, but just an average, calm dream. There weren't a lot of ups and downs, and all of the edges were a bit rounded. Things didn't feel quite real most of the time, or at least felt like they were coming to me from a distance, or through a couple of layers of gauze. I don't say this as a criticism. I actually think it was a really great storytelling technique, and I bow to Brand's ability to keep that ...more
Daniel Polansky
Small and lovely. At the height of the great depression, a woman escapes from an insane asylum and makes a life with a laborer in the city, their quiet love proving to be more recuperative than Freudian therapy. Writing it out like that, this seems like really bad advice, but it works in the context of the story. Uplifting without being cloying, worth your time.
Martin Cusworth
Apr 11, 2014 Martin Cusworth rated it really liked it
This is a beautifully told story that manages to wrap the reader up. The storyline is simple and sparing, as is the quality of the prose. Brand's style encouraged me to care deeply about the characters' plights - without barraging me with the thick descriptions that would make me feel it were all being shoved down my throat.

In some respects, though, this novel is a real curate's egg. It operates using a stream of consciousness that feels clunky when set against the attempts of (later) writers. T
Jan 30, 2015 Ana rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, own, read-a-thon
I picked this volume up on a lark, while browsing at one of my favorite bookstores. I always love the NYRB covers and after reading a bit of the back cover, I decided to buy it.

I think it hung out in my bookshelves for about a year until I decided to actually read it as part of a national Read-a-Thon in January of 2015. I read about half of it in one sitting and then couldn't wait to keep on reading it, although things like watching an almost 3-year-old did get in the way ;o)

It's an unusual litt
Apr 16, 2016 Rachel rated it really liked it
A very unique book both in style and in topic.

This is a quiet novel and one that moves along at a pace of internal struggle and development -- which is to say slowly. Watching the development and transitions that the main character goes through over the course of the year the novel takes place is fascinating -- and it was this aspect that got a 4 star rating. I have to admit that the writing style was hard for me at the the point that I didn't know if I was going to make it throu
Feb 26, 2012 Mark rated it liked it
What an odd little book this is. It the story of Harriet, a woman who suffers a nervous breakdown after the death of her brother. This results in her being put in an asylum from which she escapes. Making her way to Manhattan, she barely scrapes by until she meets John, a machinist who takes her in. They fall in love and live as husband and wife. All of this takes place during the depths of the Great Depression, so their existence, as well as that everyone they know, is tenuous. Homelessness and ...more
May 22, 2013 Eve rated it it was amazing
Millen Brand brings alive a long ago New York as the setting for the story of a young woman's regeneration. The main character escapes from a mental hospital where she has spent seven years of her young adulthood. She finds the will to live through the struggle of life during Depression-era New York and the comforts of carnal love. This is a quiet book, not much is said by the character, who calls herself Harriet, but much is observed in careful detail. Although sometimes as bleak as the time ...more
Feb 24, 2013 Jenny rated it really liked it
This was a beautiful novel, not because of anything particular like plot, or character, or language, but because of it's quietness, it's simplicity, and it's ability to describe something so intimately through one person's eyes. I'm not even sure if I'm adequately describing what I liked about it...there was something about it that did not ring entirely true, but there were also these moments where I felt that she was taking us really inside herself and her experience. She was living her pain ...more
May 22, 2013 Eve rated it it was amazing
Millen Brand brings alive a long ago New York as the setting for the story of a young woman's regeneration. The main character escapes from a mental hospital where she has spent seven years of her young adulthood. She finds the will to live through the struggle of life during Depression-era New York and the comforts of carnal love. This is a quiet book, not much is said by the character, who calls herself Harriet, but much is observed in careful detail. Although sometimes as bleak as the time ...more
Ian Hamilton
Jun 30, 2016 Ian Hamilton rated it really liked it
The Outward Room is a simple, poignant story of a woman enduring personal struggles while attempting to navigate a new and unforgiving world with a backdrop of New York City during the Great Depression. Brand's prose is both direct and descriptive in its depiction of loneliness and desperation, evoking a range of emotions from the reader (or should!). Heck, there is even an immensely powerful seven or eight page sequence that just depicts the woman's destination-less subway ride as she comes ...more
JJ Aitken
Aug 27, 2014 JJ Aitken rated it liked it
Written in the most warm and intimate prose that leaves the reader feeling for these characters as if they were the people that made up ones own day to day life. A book that has that rarest of qualities that is hard to find in modern literature, uncluttered, honest and so refreshing. It is the lack of sentimentality that left me feeling that gorgeous combination of romantic and melancholy. This is a beautiful gem of a book.
Aug 05, 2015 Jeff rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
If it's good enough for Dreiser, it's good enough for me. I think the algorithm recommended this to me b/c of "mental institution" angle, I should note not much of the book takes place in institution and while there are some references to that time later in the book, it's not really the crux of the book.
Oct 16, 2012 Jill rated it liked it
This historical novel chronicles a young, mentally ill woman's escape from the mental hospital and her new life in New York City. I was gripped by the story and her struggle to find herself in the real world. I wasn't completely in understanding of her mental illness as she sounded normal for the most part. All in all, a quick read and captivating.
Mary Wilt
Apr 05, 2015 Mary Wilt rated it really liked it
Interesting book I picked up from one of those "lost treasures" lists, a NYRB classic. Given the multiple changes in society and women's roles, in addition to the totally different treatment of mental illness, this was a remarkable look at one woman's struggles to live with her darkness and loss. Very affecting.
Benjamin Farmer
Aug 20, 2015 Benjamin Farmer rated it liked it
It was okay, but there were just too many convenient things that happened to the main character of the book. I won't name them. But she went from zero to hero in a week, and it didn't strike me as believable. Not good, not bad, just . . . . okay. I enjoyed his style of writing.
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NYRB Classics: The Outward Room, by Millen Brand 2 7 Oct 29, 2013 04:09PM  
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Millen Brand was an writer and poet. His novels Savage Sleep and The Outward Room, which addressed mental health institutions, were bestsellers in the 1960s and 1930s, respectively.
More about Millen Brand...

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