Skrot's Reviews > Briefing for a Descent Into Hell

Briefing for a Descent Into Hell by Doris Lessing
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Jun 29, 11

I have read a number of reviews stating that the first 1/4 or 1/3 of this book is slow-going and difficult to get through. While I agree with these assessments, I think the bigger problem is that the first-person portions of the book, in which a mental patient's thoughts and impressions are narrated, ring false.

I know very little about Doris Lessing's personal background with regard to mental health issues, but the first-person narrative of the mentally ill man strikes me as having been written by someone who has no idea what mental illness actually feels like. The main character's mental illness seems more like a plot device, rather than an attempt to truly convey the experience of a mentally ill person. My hunch is that, Nobel winner or not, Ms. Lessing simply relied on her imagination to guess what mental illness feels like and then structured that guess to fit her plot.

It's a shame she doesn't appear to have researched the literature of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder or, better yet, actually spoken to someone suffering from these disorders. If she did in fact conduct this research or speak with these folks, then she did a horrible job conveying their experiences in the form of her main character. Nobody I've ever met who suffers from these conditions conveys their thoughts in anything approaching the banal style or whimsical, artful fantasy of the main character's first-person narrative.

If, as a reader, you don't care if a protagonist functions entirely as a cipher for the author's concept, then by all means read this book. If you're like me, though, and appreciate protagonists whose thoughts and feelings are at least partially based in our shared, lived reality, then do yourself a favor and read one of the many recent memoirs about mental illness instead. If you insist on a whimsical and artful depiction of mental illness, then try Memoirs of My Nervous Condition by Daniel Paul Schreber. You get the best of both worlds - the flights of fancy that Ms. Lessing tried to portray as well as a sense of what it actually feels like inside the brain of one experiencing such flights of fancy.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Will I believe the purpose of the book was to show how those with greater spiritual intelligence can be labelled insane by the normals. I don't believe he was suffering from schizophrenia at all. Rather, in the book, he seems to have a heightened sense of spiritual perception.

message 2: by Skrot (new) - added it

Skrot If that's what spiritual intelligence feels like, then no thanks.

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