Girl, Interrupted (book & film review)

“It was a spring day, the sort that gives people hope: all soft winds and delicate smells of warm earth. Suicide weather.”

Girl, Interrupted is the true story of Susanna Kaysen’s time spent in the infamous McLean Hospital* and you have probably seen the cult film adaptation with Winona and Jolie or at least heard of it unless, like me, you live under a rock and this is all news to you. Okay, so I had heard the title and vaguely knew about a late 90s blonde Jolie. But still, I’m kicking myself for not having read (and watched) these sooner.

*famous due to it’s clientèle in the past.

“Ray Charles was the most famous ex-patient. We all hoped he’d return and serenade us from the window of the drug-rehabilitation ward. […] Robert Lowell also didn’t come while I was there. Sylvia Plath had come and gone.

What is it about meter and cadence and rhythm that makes their makers mad?”

In 1967, Susanna is admitted to McLean Hospital for the treatment of depression which is later diagnosed as borderline personality. She was eighteen.

“One of my teachers told me I was a nihilist. He meant it as an insult but I took it as a compliment.”

Kaysen’s memoir reads like a diary and whilst it deals with a rather harrowing topic it is both poetic and humourous. She doesn’t romanticize her condition but rather documents her experience living in the ward and the lifestyle it affords her. The novel is a slim one and best read in one sitting and it was definitely more heartwarming than I had initially expected. If you have ever read & loved or wanted to read, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath then this book is also for you.

Filmically, Girl, Interrupted also works well. However, it’s a glossy piece of cinema, rather than a raw period piece.  (Think: Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides).

Ultimately I expected more from the film, due to it’s cult status and my having read the novel first but Mangold’s interpretation is addictive in its own right. Lisa’s dominance in the film caught me off guard but I feel it’s effective in portraying Susanna’s sense of loss.

“People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can’t answer the real question. All I can tell them is, It’s easy.

And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe.”

In the book, there are two Lisa’s. Perhaps this would’ve confused the audience had it been translated to film, however, Jolie’s role is spectacular enough that perhaps with another Lisa, Winona would’ve been felt completely overshadowed. I really enjoyed the portrayal of Daisy (Brittany Murphy) in the film, but found it became all a bit melodramatic as Susanna and Lisa’s relationship deepened. I also enjoyed the ending of the book and sort of wished it was in the film – but alas – I think it may have left the film feeling a little too Hollywood if that makes any sense.

Ultimately, I love the book that little bit more, but I enjoy each piece in it’s own right. One cannot fully compare such different media. I think I love the book more because it reminds me so of The Bell Jar, my first true love. It also got me thinking of other books I loved with similar themes like:

  • Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood
  • An Angel At my Table by Janet Frame. (There is a great film version of this!)
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang (now that would need a raw, no holds barred, throw in some magical realism effects, don’t you think!?)

“But most people pass over incrementally, making a series of perforations in the membrane between here and there until an opening exists. And who can resist an opening?”

 

 

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