Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Bell Jar

From Amazon: Plath was an excellent poet but is known to many for this largely autobiographical novel. The Bell Jar tells the story of a gifted young woman's mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. The real Plath committed suicide in 1963 and left behind this scathingly sad, honest and perfectly-written book, which remains one of the best-told tales of a woman's descent into insanity.

I just read this book. It is extraordinary, powerful and sad. The depiction of her hospital stay is not that different from Norah Gilbert's experiences in "Voluntary Madness" except that shock treatment is no longer in vogue. Elyn Saks' "The Center Can Not Hold" has similar passages. I found "The Bell Jar" somewhat painful to read. But, it is brilliant and insightful (to a degree). The etiology of her depression is not explored. Was it her father's untimely death or a near rape she experienced just before the breakdown? Shakespeare's words ring true:
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia (2005)

From Publishers Weekly
This harrowing but arresting memoir—written in alternating voices by identical twins in their 50s reveals how devastating schizophrenia is to both the victim and those who love her. The condition, which afflicts Pamela (an award-winning poet), can be controlled with drugs and psychiatry, but never cured. When the twins were young, Pamela always outshone Carolyn. But in junior high, Pamela was beset by fears and began a lifelong pattern of cutting and burning herself. After the two entered Brown University, Pamela's decline into paranoia accelerated until she attempted suicide. During the ensuing years of Pamela's frequent breakdowns and hospitalizations, Carolyn became a psychiatrist, married and had two children. Empathetic and concerned, Carolyn nonetheless conveys her overwhelming frustration. and occasional alienation from her sister, when she is unable to help. Pamela's schizophrenia caused their father (a physician who edited a book on empathy) to sever his relationship with her. Remarkably descriptive, Pamela's account details how it feels to hear voices and to suspect evil in everyone. Though she struggles with her medications, Pamela remains a committed poet and is now reconciled with her father and close to her twin. 8 pages of b&w photos.
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