Sense and sensibilityin psychiatric care

By Susanna Kaysen.

Virago Press


ISBN 1 85381 835 6

An intensely personal work such as this is difficult to review.
Miserable since childhood, Susanna Kaysen was sent to McLean
Psychiatric Hospital at the age of 18 and re-emerged 21 months

A quarter of a century on Kaysen re-visits the experience. Girl,
interrupted is a mishmash of vignettes of life on the adolescent
girls’ ward interspersed with witty commentary and pages taken from
Kaysen’s own case notes.

The humour is delightful at times, discomforting at others. The
telling of Kaysen’s story remains as haunted by unshed tears as her
early life so clearly was.

Perhaps the experience of losing two years in a world of
security screens and plastic forks is simply indigestible.

Kaysen captures beautifully that combination of dependency and
rebelliousness which characterises mental hospital life; and if the
details of ward routine are different everywhere, the lack of any
real help for the troubled souls incarcerated there will be
depressingly familiar.

Despite the overblown American quotes on the book covers, the
author is not another Sylvia Plath and her book is not
‘extraordinary’ or ‘heartbreaking’.

It is an ordinary woman’s attempt to make some sense of the
dehumanising experience of psychiatric treatment.

Kaysen is an entertaining writer. The concluding chapters in
which she wrestles with her diagnosis, looked up in The Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual (third edition, revised) at the corner book
store, are outstandingly witty and poignant.

Though expensive for a slim volume, this is well worth

Cathy Pelikan is a member of Survivors Speak

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