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The Outward Room

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3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  192 ratings  ·  30 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
...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 19th 2010 by NYRB Classics (first published 1937)
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New York Review Books - Classics
206th out of 375 books — 388 voters
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Mental Hospital Novels
184th out of 197 books — 600 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,211)
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Tony
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
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Cphe
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
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MG
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
Jenna
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 f ...more
J.
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
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Edan
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
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Lizzie
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
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Tom
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
Andy
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 subjec ...more
David
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.
Martin Cusworth
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
...more
Meagan
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 g ...more
Ana
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
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Noah
"The Outward Room is about a young woman's journey from madness to self-discovery"

I stumbled across this book in a used bookstore, drawn to the author's odd name and a cover of a snowy New York alley. I read that it caused a "sensation" when it was published in 1937, but has since fallen out of the cultural consciousness.

The novel follows a young woman as she endures her 7th year in a mental institution, coping with manic-depression resulting from the death of her brother. She soon resolves to e
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Mark
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
JJ Aitken
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.
Jennifer
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 an ...more
Eve
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 an ...more
Eve
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 an ...more
Mary Wilt
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.
Jill
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.
Julie
I came across this book at the library. It was the story of a young women committed to an asylum after the death of her brother. After seven years, she "escapes". She finds her way to New York and makes a life for herself. I loved the simplicity of the writing. A great find.
Tara
Spare, fragmented story of the Depression years in which a woman escapes from a mental hospital and makes her way to New York City, where she starts with nothing but finds "Life," as she keeps reminding herself, and love.
Linda Cohen
Sep 05, 2010 Linda Cohen 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!
Michele
An interesting look at how mental illness was treated in the early part of the 20th century, morphing into a strangely touching love story.
Lisa4piano Brown
not too thrilled with this one . a lot of talk not going anywhere. maybe i just don't understand all the literary devices used.
Nanaruth
Amazingly well written. Also, the afterward by Peter Cameron is thoughtful and thought provoking.
Anita
Oct 12, 2010 Anita marked it as to-read
I'm actually reading an old, greenish, faded hard-cover from 1937 that I found.
Laurel Beth
Great Depressionista, interrupted.
jennifer
2 1/2.
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NYRB Classics: The Outward Room, by Millen Brand 2 6 Oct 29, 2013 04:09PM  
  • Wish Her Safe at Home
  • A Meaningful Life
  • Irretrievable
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  • Victorine
  • Mr. Fortune's Maggot; and, The Salutation
  • The Pumpkin Eater
  • After Claude
  • My Fantoms
  • The Pilgrim Hawk
  • Sunflower
  • Ride a Cockhorse
  • Great Granny Webster
  • Memoirs of Hecate County
  • The Vet's Daughter
  • The Unpossessed
  • The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
  • Indian Summer
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...
Savage Sleep Some Love, Some Hunger Dry Summer in Provence : Poems of a Place Peace March, Nagasaki To Hiroshima Local Lives: Poems About the Pennsylvania Dutch

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