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Customer Review

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Eden Express., 18 Sept. 2006
This review is from: The Eden Express: A Memoir of Schizophrenia (Paperback)
In this book, first published in 1975, Mark Vonnegut recounts his adventures of 1969 - 1971. Vonnegut, a recent religion graduate, and friends set out to an isolated area of British Columbia and establish a farm-cum-hippy commune. All goes swimmingly well until Vonnegut develops a mental illness, later diagnosed as schizophrenia. After 3 separate "breakdowns" and two stays in a mental hospital, the author abandons the farm, his alternative lifestyle and even his beloved dog, and re-enters society.

Firstly, as a look at counter culture, the hippy ideal and the political and social backdrop of sixties America, the book excels. Thanks to the author's writing style, this also stands up as a straightforward, readable and enjoyable adventure tale. However one would expect a book with such a title to provide some sort of insight into the experience of mental illness. This it does, but in a very bizarre fashion. Vonnegut attempts to recount what he was thinking while he was ill in a verbatim manner. The advantage of this approach is that it offers an unfiltered, unabated view of what the author was experiencing. Vonnegut doesn't let his later rationalisations and interpretations interfere with his vivid descriptions. Unfortunately, this style also makes for, at times, a very confusing read. As the author's thoughts become frankly nonsensical, so does the text.

Undoubtedly the author does a commendable job of describing the thoughts he had while he was ill. He describes his other `symptoms' reasonably well too. However, throughout the book I was wondering why I (someone who has experienced psychosis) had so much difficulty relating to the author's experiences of his illness. Particularly since the other accounts of psychosis and schizophrenia I've read were replete with familiar situations, feelings, thoughts and symptoms. I was finally enlightened when the author revealed in the afterword that today he would be diagnosed as bipolar. This little revelation probably explains why the current edition's subtitle is "a memoir of madness" and no longer "a memoir of schizophrenia". That little gripe aside, this is another interesting look at mental illness, and one very different from the others I've encountered. Forgetting about mental illness, it's also a very enjoyable book full stop.
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