4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
..., 8 Jun. 2016
An amazing dispatch from the outer reaches of mania and depression. It is extraordinarily intimate - written with the author’s usual fearlessness and immediacy - despite the walled-off nature of her illness. The language is always engaging, playful, light - while the frequent layering of images and metaphors creates tidal swells that beautifully conjure the extreme states of her condition. She approaches her distress from an angle that offers something very different to other accounts of mania or depression I’ve read. It may not be quite as raw or serrated as some other patient testimonies, but that is not the point: I feel I have been shown something very important, something new and uncharted.
It would certainly be of interest to anyone with experience of mental illness (not just mania or depression); but more than this, to anyone with an interest in a literature of extreme states (which should really be everyone, as such considered, thoughtful glimpses of this realm are rare). It is a wonderfully open book – banal tiny failures mixed with states of acute psychic distress – though it doesn’t just offer consolation or resonance. It is not a conventional diary (though does progress fairly linearly and give a clear sense of descent and tentative, fragile recovery) – but is instead a broader narrative with shifting focus, in keeping with the flux of the condition. Sometimes there is forensically detailed analysis of thought patterns, at others imaginative flights, while elsewhere there is a deep and profoundly personal engagement with myth, or the work of others such as Rilke or Shakespeare.
It is particular good on the interactions with the medical profession and the” angelisation” and demonization that occur (though feeling an immediate aversion to a psychiatrist because of his winklepicker shoes is entirely justified, in my opinion). In that respect certain sections complement Berger’s ‘A Fortunate Man’ well. You feel the doctor’s emanations of warmth, empathy, his preternaturally nuanced care - but also the desperate projections of the patient. The sections detailing support from friends and family are similarly strong. In the midst of the author’s descent, a great many people go far beyond what anyone could expect or hope for - but even when their extraordinary support is itemised, or snatches of dialogue transcribed, they still seem in some distant orbit – though this is not the result of solipsism, but carefully-rendered perspective; the utter loneliness and unreachability of each stage is captured in such a subtle, natural and unforced manner..
There are, very loosely, three phases to the book – with a deeper cultural exploration of the illness in the middle, and a courageous attempt at jolting oneself out of a depressive state in the final third. As a sort of coda or epilogue, there are a series of very moving poems that reward close reading, and that illuminate earlier parts of the text.
It’s not perfect. Occasionally, in the middle chapters, you long for more direct flashes of personal narrative, so strong has your attachment to the author become in the first sections – but this is a minor point. The book doesn’t offer easy answers or follow a conventional inspirational arc. Instead it reveals, shares, invites, while still retaining a sense of unknowability.