E's Reviews > Girl, Interrupted

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
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Oct 13, 07

bookshelves: biographies
Read in January, 2000

While Susanna Keysen composes some very poetic essays offering alternative and sometimes beautiful perspectives in her autobiography, her general tone is very, very defensive. Granted discussing whether or not one suffered from a mental illness can never be easy, but the book seems to be her manifesto for proving that she wasn't really borderline, as her therapist diagnosed.

I don't know enough about Borderline Personality Disorder to judge - I agree that it seems women are disproportionately diagnosed with it, and a conservative environment could easily allow for any non-conformist woman to be blamed for her own marginalization and labeled insane. However, while Keysen seems to want to be seen as simply non-conformist in an oppressive time, she was in some ways destructively so by her own admission. She gave herself bruises, she attempted suicide, she tried to break into her own hand convinced it was a monkey's.

The early Sixties sounded like a terrible time to be a woman, and many of the mental institutions were anything but conducive to healing. Nevertheless, I don't buy the defensive rebel's libertarian spiel that they should just be left alone to hurt themselves, uninterrupted. Perhaps Susanna wanted to criticize her diagnosis or how she was treated, but claiming that her acts of self-harm warranted no such "interruption" with treatment seems rather dramatic and ungrateful. The adolescent glorification of the misunderstood, self-harming Plath-like waif is both dangerous and very selfish, and there are scores of books and songs and films to help this glorification along.

I hope girls who read this book are smart enough not to fall for it, but can still enjoy her moments of poetic greatness.

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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Jaymie Horak See, I don't feel like she's saying this. I think it's the actual BPD that she feels interrupted her. Physically the doctor, yes. And it is very defensive and could seem like it's against treatment. But she also praises the hospital as being what she needed at that time. I felt like her problem wasn't with being in the hospital. Her problem was that her life was taken from her with some kind of mental issues - be it brain or personality or whathaveyou. She knows something in her seems to be wrong (admits to so many of those thoughts / actions / feelings) and is frustrated at it as a whole.


Victorim I think you may have perceived something she didn't really try to convey.


Victorim Also, if you ever go into a hospital you'll understand the resistant to treatment bit. You can't really dislike it just because you don't understand the feeling.


message 4: by E (new) - rated it 2 stars

E Jaymie, interesting interpretation. I need to read it again. (I wrote this review 7 years ago.)

Victorim, my perception may indeed not be what she was trying to convey. But I have spent extended periods of time in youth hospitals - for physical conditions, granted, but I was in group therapy and my friends there had been admitted for all sorts of reasons - and I think that's why I'm particularly sensitive to the idea of outsiders getting the wrong impression and romanticizing illness. Probably every patient wants to resist treatment at some point and I fully support Keysen's right to tell her story however she sees fit. I just get uncomfortable when the popularity of such books seems to ride on the adolescent glorification of suffering, which is, at best, a shallow understanding of true illness.


message 5: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I don't think you can fairly comment on this unless you have actually been through the issue yourself. You don't know how she felt.


message 6: by E (new) - rated it 2 stars

E Sarah, indeed, I do not know what she went through. I can never judge Kaysen as a person. But in choosing to write a book about it, she is inviting us to comment upon it as a contribution to the discourse on BPD and the general idea of girls who identify as interrupted in society.

Patients deserve absolutely any degree of privacy they seek. But I don't believe it's unfair for mere fans of the book to hear differing opinions from critics. Again, I'm critiquing the book and the messages I gleaned from it, not the person.

Though whether or not people who choose to tell their personal life story should expect to be judged personally opens a whole other can of worms...


message 7: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I was not implying that you were judging her, nor that your review was wrong or inappropriate (reviews, at the end of the day, are mainly opinion). I was simply saying that, as a subject close to my heart, mental health is far from simple and hard for someone in a different situation to fully understand. I think it is brilliant for individuals to have opinions different to others - I myself am a highly opinionated person I was quite simply trying to state that while others may not understand a person suffering from BPD or find self harm and resistance to treatment pointless, mental health (as the name suggests) affects the brain and makes the sufferer view the world differently.


message 8: by E (new) - rated it 2 stars

E Sarah wrote: "I was not implying that you were judging her, nor that your review was wrong or inappropriate (reviews, at the end of the day, are mainly opinion). I was simply saying that, as a subject close to m..."

Couldn't agree more.


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