A Genre Analysis on the Book Girl by Susanna Kaysen
The movie chronicles eighteen year old Susanna Kaysen’s experiences surrounding her stay at a mental institution. It is 1967, a time of social change and unrest. Susanna makes a half-heart attempt at suicide, ingesting a bottle of aspirin and chasing the pills with a bottle of vodka. She is taken to the emergency room, her stomach is pumped and she survives. Afterwards she meets with a psychologist who explores her more recent feelings and experiences. The psychologist concludes, with her parents assent, that she would benefit from a stay at Claymore, a private mental institution.
McLean Hospital, where Susanna stayed – still exists today. While the institution opened as an asylum in 1818, the modern iteration of McLean hospital looks to be a safe and supportive place to be. Even in the late ’60s, Susanna never criticizes the mental care she received (or, when she does, it’s not a criticism of the care, but her general not wanting to deal with it). Kaysen’s writing in general is enjoyable, quick and descriptive. You get a feel for the place and the people there. Mental health memoirs aren’t for everyone. Everyone’s experiences are different. I thought Susanna’s story was powerful, but not too heavy. She speak sort of… sarcastically, I guess? I don’t want to say flippant, but the way she writes it’s clear that she’s rolling her eyes at a lot of things and taking them in stride, and I know that’s a weird way of explaining a writing voice, but I really liked it and it’s not as negative as I”m making it sound. I think her voice is what made the essays feel both relatable and impactful for the reader, despite personal experience.
It takes getting used to. And you need the means, the opportunity, and the motive. A successful suicide demands good organization and a cool head, both of which are incompatible with the suicidal state of mind” (Kaysen 36). Diagnosed with mental illness known as borderline disorder, throughout the novel, Kaysen embarks on a rigorous questioning of her state of mind. This leaves her depressed, angry and sad hence only confiding in friends like Lisa. Later, Kaysen’s struggle to explain her situation gives her ticket to the real world. For her, this is a clear misdiagnosis. Despite the techniques used by Kaysen, defense mechanism is common among many authors who seek to recount their unbearable past. For instance, in Truddi Chase’s memoir of her childhood abuse, she tells her story in the third person to subtly conceal her identity. She describes her self as “the woman” also refrains from referring to other characters by their real names (Chase 3).
Chase, Truddi. When Rabbit Howls. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1990.
Kaysen, Susanna. Girl Interrupted. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.