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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 4 May 2017
Really good
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on 17 April 2017
A great insight into how depression takes over your life. I imagine writing this was cathartic for the author, it was for this reader
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on 28 August 2008
For such a short book, this packs quite a punch, particularly for someone with experience of depression. In this honest and powerful memoir, Styron recounts his descent from a mild sense of unease into a vortex of madness and suicide. His eloquent and accessible prose accurately depicts the workings of his mind and the gradual closing down of each facet of his physical and mental normality, until he is hospitalized on the verge of killing himself. Throughout his description of his own experience he also muses on literary friends' illness and suicides, the artistic tendency to madness, the mundanity of the word 'depression', the dangers of antidepressant drugs versus their merits, and the attitudes of others around him. Styron does not claim to be an expert on these issues but addresses them thoughtfully and fairly, making no pretence at speaking for every sufferer of this illness but instead encouraging understanding and compassion. In the end, the message is also one of hope - if you can survive the crisis point there is light at the end of the tunnel and normality and happiness will eventually return.
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on 13 August 2003
Styron is not comfortable with exposing himself in this book - it is clear from the tone of the writing, and he even implies it by admitting he only decided to write it as a result of some lecture given on the topic of Depression, which brought on a mass of empathic and identifying letters.
Personally, I would've liked to know a bit more about the actual feelings and thoughts of a depressed man, rather than about his actions or life events as a result of depression. For that reason I much prefer 'Sunbathing in the Rain' by Gwyneth Lewis, which is a more internal look into the depressive experience.
Even so, this book might be helpful for people who are related to depressed people, because it might help them understand how it turns a person into a dysfunctional mush of raw nerves.
I suppose people must have been so excited about the book when it first came out, because it was written by such a well-known and respected novelist, and brought on wide recognition of a terrible desease, from which millions of people had to suffer secretly and shamefully in the past. I'm sure it helped many people decide to put everything on the table and get helped, and that in itself is a great achievement.
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Were it not for the fact that depression has cast its dark shadow over my life, I would not be here now typing out yet another review. You see it keeps my mind focused on healthier things! I have no desire to revisit that place of despair and desolation, and so I beat on occupying my mind and body in healthier pursuits. But the scars are still there, and like a dormant volcano the tremors are still occasionally felt, and there is the nagging possibility in the back of my mind that another eruption could be far more catastrophic than the last. But I am older and hopefully wiser now, and I pray that this experience makes me stronger and better equipped to deal with whatever the future may hold. Futures have an infuriating habit of taking surprising twists and turns!

Baring ones soul to public view is never easy, but far far better than suffering in silence. It is perhaps easier for the writer than those who face crowds of people more directly. William Styron is one such writer who has done so in this little book. That fine and largely forgotten writer Richard Jefferies also did so with his "The Story of My Heart". I have read Styron's magisterial "tour de force ", "Sophies Choice", about a holocaust survivor, and the awful past experiences that she has to try to come to terms with. Styron brilliantly portrays a young woman going through the turmoil of depression emanating from these past experiences. Styron admits in "Darkness Visible" that depressive illness had been knocking at his door for some time, and that it aided him when painting characters in his books. He goes on to give a very personal account of his experiences and how he dealt with his illness. He makes it clear that the illness is idiosyncratic in its character, and that each person will suffer differently, although there are some common denominators.

The book contains many insightful passages. One such was an explanation given to him of the medical professions understanding of depression, likening it to Columbus arriving in America but still being stuck on an island in the Bahamas with the vast country of America still to be discovered. Not much has changed since Styron wrote those words. Indeed there is still much that is not understood, for the human mind is a very complex creation. Styron pulls no punches when he describes his serious bout of depression as a form of madness. Strong words made even stronger in today's PC world gone mad. But he makes it clear that this is only applicable to extreme cases, of which I personally was not one, but can still relate to the word madness when I recall my befuddled state of mind at the time.

Thankfully Styron is even able to inject some black humour into a very serious subject. He describes the ward of the hospital he was admitted to, as containing fourteen or fifteen middle aged males and females in the throes of melancholia of a suicidal complexion, as a place one could safely assume to be a fairly laughterless environment. He also laughs at the art therapy sessions he took describing pictures of a skull and a smiley face he drew for amusement. He also mentions many famous people from the past who were afflicted, many of whom sadly committed suicide. The great writer and Auchwitz survivor Primo Levi, of whose work I am a great admirer, was one of these. Today we think of someone like Stephen Fry, who has been very honest and open about his struggles with illness.

But most importantly Styron drums in the most important and uplifting message at the end. It is often the support and encouragement of friends and family, who may not understand, but unstintingly help to guide sufferers through this darkness of the soul, that is often the greatest reason for cure. Encouragingly most people ascend from this pit and emerge into a "Shining new World". Once again everything seems fresh and we can wonder at the world anew. Suicide is not an option in such a world! A small book, with a powerful message! Highly recommended.

"The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades, these I saw. Look ye also while life lasts".
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William Styron's "Darkness Visible" is a masterpiece of observation of the human spirits decline into depression (madness). Few authors have ever so deftly and succinctly described the feelings, fear or hopelessness that surrounds this disease. Stryon makes several references to other famous literary giants and constantly wonders if he too, is destined to defeat by this monster melancholia. Is this disease more prevalent among the artists or do they simply have the tools to portray the insidiousness of its wake? Stryon's allegories and sparse use of extremely descriptive verbiage come as close to describing the experience of depression as one could ever imagine. Noted for his great work, "Sophie's Choice", Stryon continues here with a piece of work that demands reading by anyone possessing a human spirit. It's a masterpiece.
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on 8 November 2010
An amazing book. Surely no reader, prepared to travel with Styron on his harrowing journey into the "yawning darkness" of depression, could emerge with an unchanged attitude to severe depression.
Styron's candour and eloquence are enhanced by his vivid metaphors and by powerful descriptions of his emotional state. He teaches us awareness and understanding of the torment of the sufferer and also of the value to the depressed person of our committed support and our reassurance of his/her self worth.
An important read for anyone in close contact with one who sufferers from depression.
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on 17 May 2000
If anyone is wondering what depression feels like, this book is one man's answer. William Styron frankly and eloquently describes the internal torment that took him to the brink of suicide, then details how a spell in hospital and continued therapy and medication pulled him back to life.
Depression crept up on Styron at the height of his career. He had seen friends give in and take their own lives in the past, but had never expected to face the illness himself.
This is the book I recommend to family and friends who want to know how depression feels. Styron says it so much better than I can.
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on 3 February 2013
A short narrative of a depression - Styron prefers the term melancholia - which afflicted the author soon after turnin 60.

It's not strong on the causes of the malady - perhaps there is some genetic predisposition, perhaps the loss of a mother at the age of 13, perhaps giving up alcohol, perhaps taking too high a dose of a sleeping tablet. The point is not the cure, though, it is the description which is remarkably vivid. And what worked - listening to Brahms' Alto Rhapsody, and a spell in hospital - is also surprising and interesting.

I would recommend it.
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on 31 October 2001
Fascinating book that explores and helps readers to understand the real depths of an illness which few can fully comprehend. As a memoir of the author's own experiences it offers a valid portrayal of melancholia, informing readers in his wonderful narrative style. With such a dark subject matter this book won't leave you full of smiles but it does leave you with a more compassionate view of melancholia and a satisfying read.
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