Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

girlinterruptedI liked this book with my mind because it’s written well and vividly, but it didn’t touch my feelings. All right: perhaps it touched them, but not too deeply. I think the reason for this is that I found Girl, Interrupted too fast and episodic (or I found myself too fast in my relation to this book, which is the same).

This is how fast it is: Susanna Kaysen is, at the age of 18, sent to a psychiatric hospital/crazy house/loony bin (choose one), where she then spends about a year and a half, makes friends with some of the other patients, experiences both life and death, sees both unexpected beauty and unexpected tragedies, until finally someone somewhere decides that this was enough, Kaysen is now ready to go back to the world. So be it, then.

Of course – I understand Kaysen’s main problems and doubts, I see the absurdity of life, and I can’t help but contemplate the arbitrary nature of the boundaries between sanity and insanity, especially when I read the description of borderline personality disorder (the illness Kaysen was diagnosed with, whose symptoms and description she copied her from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), and I come to the conclusion that I might have BPD, too, only no one noticed it yet.

(I sometimes read the diagnostic criteria of mental disorders, and depending on my mood, I can easily diagnose myself as either suffering from either borderline, bipolar, or major depressive disorder, or something else entirely. And I’m not doubting the reality or the existence of mental disorders – I just want to say what Kaysen herself seems to express: that such diagnoses can be highly arbitrary, and also that a lot of things described in the DSM as symptoms of a disorder seem to me to be completely normal modes of human behavior and reactions to life [but of course it’s possible that I’m really not sane].)

End of parentheses.

So yes – I understand what Kaysen says, it’s only – again! as so often – that I don’t feel that anything’s at stake here. I miss the personal connection with Kaysen, and I don’t feel how and why Kaysen’s mind is in such a disordered shape.

Kaysen also mentioned her, so a comparison with Sylvia Plath was inevitable to me. Plath also used to be a patient in the ward where Kaysen was hospitalized, so now I recalled Plath’s The Bell Jar. And even years after my last re-reading, I could clearly recollect the deeply personal, burning, suffocating atmosphere of that novel, I could relive the feelings of how the protagonist just wanted to crouch in a quiet corner, I could remember the desperate urgency of her question: “how would a sane person behave now?” Compared to all this, I couldn’t feel much while reading Girl, Interrupted. Teenage angst, asshole boyfriends, general misery, and 50 aspirins down the throat? Yes, I believe it. But I don’t feel it.

I read and read, and tried to understand, and I felt like I should have been able to empathize better, but in the end, I really didn’t know just what the hell’s wrong with Susanna Kaysen.

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