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Girl, Interrupted [Paperback]

Susanna Kaysen
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 Feb 2000

In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she'd never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital to be treated for depression. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital renowned for its famous clientele - Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor and Ray Charles.

A clear-sighted, unflinching work that provokes questions about our definitions of sane and insane, Kaysen's extraordinary memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers.

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Girl, Interrupted + The Bell Jar + One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; New Ed edition (17 Feb 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860497926
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860497926
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted is the autobiographical story of the author's time in a psychiatric award in 1967. Sylvia Plath was a patient at the same hospital in the early 1950s so inevitably comparisons have been made between Plath's The Bell Jar and Kaysen's novel--both recounting a young woman's descent into insanity. This, however, is where the similarities end--The Bell Jar is a haunting and lyrical book; Girl, Interrupted is a more hard-edged, documentary-style narrative. It has none of the beauty and poetry of Plath's prose and is more akin to Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation , an up-to-date memoir of a young girl's struggle with depression and drugs. Both these books offer a brutal and stark image of a life of mental illness.

Kaysen's account goes further and questions the standard notions of sanity and insanity. Her plausible voice allows the reader to accept a world where time is distorted, chaos reigns and questions are left unanswered, capturing perfectly the sense of helplessness and frustration felt by these women. The book's gritty realism is also heightened by copies of the author's original medical reports lodged between the chapters.

However, it is her penetrating insights into those around her, from those cared for to the caretakers, that make "Girl, Interrupted" so potent. Lacing her narrative with a hard-edged, sardonic sting, she introduces us to a cast of characters from the outrageous Lisa to the chicken-hoarding Daisy to the Martian's girlfriend:

Daisy was a seasonal event. She came before Thanksgiving and stayed through Christmas every year ... "Would anyone like to share?" the head nurse asked ... "Me! Me! Somebody who was a Martian's girlfriend and also had a little penis of her own, which she was eager to show off, raised a hand; nobody wanted to share with her.
"Girl, Interrupted" is a credible and creditable chronicle of the lives of women in the 1960s who, through the ignorance and narrow-mindedness of society, were contained and monitored for not fitting into the "norm", the mainstream. Nicola Perry


Not since Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar has a personal account of life in a mental hospital achieved as much popularity and acclaim (TIME MAGAZINE)

Intelligent and painful (GUARDIAN)

Girl, Interrupted is superb, poignant and more powerful for its lack of romantic inflation, whining, or self-congratulation (SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY)

Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted is the autobiographical story of the author's time in a psychiatric award in 1967. Sylvia Plath was a patient at the same hospital in the early 1950s so inevitably comparisons have been made between Plath's The Bell Jar (Kaysen's account goes further and questions the standard notions of sanity and insanity. Her plausible voice allows the reader to accept a world where time is distorted, chaos reigns and questions are left unanswered, capturing perfectly the sense of help)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ... 2 May 2004
I read this book before I saw the film, and now view each as seperate and different entities. Whereas the film uses a lot of artistic license to create a picture of hospitalisation in 1960's America, that is palatable for the cinema-goer, the original book is more a case history of Susanna Kayson's life.
It is an intregueing look into the mental health system at that time, but the parts that most touched me and affected me in the film, were absent from the original book.
I do however, find the book immensely interesting for it's 'original' material, in that Susanna's case notes are reproduced, apparantly word-for-word....and anyone who has had experience of the questioning undertaken by mental health staff, will find it an interesting read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Outstanding - a modern day Plath 25 Jun 2004
Of all the books I've ever read, this is the best. Kaysen's punctuation may not always be perfect and there may be a few idiosyncrasies or colloquialisms slipped in there but the book simple amazes me. It is like a drug which has a profound affect on your mind, you simply become addicted to the story and to the characters. Never before have I ended a book feeling so privileged to have read it and feeling so close to the author.
It was reading this book which got me wholly interested on its theme of mental illness and caused me to look the work of Sylvia Plath. Plath is one of the most renound authors of our time yet her autobiographical novel 'The Bell Jar' simply could not compare with Kaysen's (controversial, I know).
What I loved most about the book was the way it jumped about with time, each chapter was short and was only focusing on one aspect of the asylum or insanity, it really is not your average beginning, middle and end.
The film is also very compelling and Ryder and Jolie's performances as Susanna and Lisa are simply outstanding. They portrayed the characters exactly how I imagined them, yet the book is still so wonderful the film simply cannot capture the same raw honesty and emotion.
I only wish the book had been longer, I would much rather read Kaysen's blunt honesty and humor than a Dickens or Austen epic any day of the week
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A girl, please don't interrupt 28 May 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you watched the film and loved it then reading this book will make you love Susanna even more. The characters are captivating and so real on the pages that they leap out at you. You instantly want to learn more about them all and meet them. You find out more of what it was like and read about characters that were missed out of the film like Lisa Cody and Alice Calais.

A frank depiction of the worryingly bad mental health operations. The book is not in a linear order but goes through remembering times while she was in McLean Hospital and her reflections on why she ended up in there. As her love grows for her fellow patients you also feel it as you read.

A book that you just want to keep reading, until you fall in. You will defiantly realise your worth more when finished with this book that you think you are before you start. A mind is a great thing, or so they say.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and honest 26 Feb 2006
It's difficult to describe this book without putting people off. It's weird, disjointed, offbeat, non-linear, and there's no straightforward plot. But it's a fantastic book. Kaysen describes the harshness and realities of her stay in a mental institution, with an attitude that ranges from matter-of-fact to shocked and horrified. She raises uncomfortable questions about the way society views mental illness, and the ways she's treated. She has the insight to question a screwed up system, and the honesty to admit that she still benefited from it. And although it's her own story she's telling, it never once seems self-centred or arrogant.
If you've seen the film of 'Girl, Interrupted', then do read the book as well. With such different styles, they have the huge advantage that watching or seeing one won't ruin the other. You can love them both.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, but feels incomplete 13 Oct 2011
Girl, Interrupted is a well-written, informed and realistic memoir of Kaysen's eighteen-month stay at McLean - a mental hospital known for its famous clientele, including Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, James Taylor and Ray Charles - during the late sixties. It's a less melodramatic and more serious work than its Hollywood adaptation, which won Angelina Jolie an Oscar, but in a way you can't blame the filmmakers for sensationalising. Though they took outrageous liberties with the story, such as having Kaysen (played by Winona Ryder) and fellow patient Lisa (Jolie) run away and discover a recently released patient's suicide, this original memoir isn't really a story.
It's rather a series of vignettes, not always in chronological order, which deal with specific episodes during Kaysen's treatment. For instance, one chapter focuses on nurses who'd spend two weeks at the hospital as part of their training, and how the patients treated them, while another is about a patient who stayed briefly before being transferred to maximum security. As the memoir nears its close action takes a backseat to analysis. Kaysen discusses her diagnosis (borderline personality disorder) and thoughts on madness, all of which is fascinating. Her theories about thoughts and how we interpret them are beautifully expressed.
I only have one problem with the book, but it's quite a big one. I felt as though Kaysen was skimming over many important events in her life and those of the people around her. This isn't a problem when it comes to other patients - what can she know about a disturbed personality which their analyst doesn't? - but her own back story is barely explored.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 25 days ago by Destructo Girl
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
Took a while to be delivered but it's a short and incredibly interesting book. Finished reading it within the hour I got it in the post! Read more
Published 27 days ago by Moe
3.0 out of 5 stars Good read.
My copy was sticky. I appreciate it was second hand, but still. Sticky. Good read.
Published 2 months ago by J H
5.0 out of 5 stars An insight into a complex world
A window into the mind of a young woman who dealt with mental illnesses. An autobiographical account of the authors experience living with BPD and depression and how she ends up in... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Suzie
5.0 out of 5 stars good book
Awsume book. One of my favorites. Its dramatic and humerous. Although quite different from the film. Its an awsume memoir
Published 4 months ago by kaelie
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect
Arrived in perfect condition and on time- it's such an amazing read and I would definitely recommend it to all
Published 7 months ago by Aoife Gamble
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended
Loved this book. I only purchased as i referenced it for a Uni application, it was truly intriguing to read the way in which young people were treated during the 1960s. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Lucy
5.0 out of 5 stars Very touching
I got the book after loving the film and it doesn't disappoint.
Enjoyed the narrative and the entries direct from the hospital. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Kat C.
5.0 out of 5 stars Girl interrupted
Quick efficient service and delivery?!
Would use and recommend again! Excellent book for anyone interested in or suffering from BPD. Read more
Published 9 months ago by roxi
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than the film
This book is wonderful and based on Kaysens own struggles with mental health, she even incorporates phsyciatric reports inbetween chapter, the book starts with the unravelling of... Read more
Published 10 months ago by PixcyPants
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