Girl, Interrupted is a short memoir focusing on the nearly two years Susanna Kaysen spent in a psychiatric hospital. Kaysen is initially admitted by a new doctor for a “break” but her stay turns into something more permanent and she is eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. While her story seems almost unbelievable at times, as well as a gross misuse of power by her doctors and parents, she posts her medical charts as evidence to her tenure at McLean Hospital.
It has been several years since I have seen the film adaptation of Girl, Interrupted but I had never read the memoir it was based on. While it was a less extreme course of treatment I saw a lot of similarities between Kaysen’s story and Rosemary Kennedy. Both women were sent away because the did not fit into the narrative the family was striving to show the world. While Kaysen was admittedly a depressed young girl she was by no means on the same level as the sociopaths or severely depressed. Excluding her freak out about the time she lost by going to the dentist or her sudden fear she was missing the bones in her wrist she seems like a typical sad teenager. The transition from high school to college or just “the real world” can be a difficult one and Susanna just didn’t handle it well at all.
Like Angelina in the film, Lisa is the standout character. Susanna’s fascination with her fellow inmate makes it easy for the reader to find her enthralling as well. While the movie expands on some of the other characters the book seems to be pretty faithfully adapted. If you’re a fan of the movie you should also enjoy the book.
Kaysen’s memoir reads more like strung together diary entries and her timeline bounces around. In one entry someone has left the hospital and in the next entry they are a featured player. While this is not usually an enjoyable style for me it added to the chaotic nature of the story and adds color to Kaysen’s state of mind. While anyone could make a gripping story out of the subject matter, Kaysen is a talented writer who wrote a gripping memoir.
“I can honestly say that my misery had been transformed into common unhappiness, so by Freud’s definition I have achieved mental health.”