Discussion Forums - Hidden Gems Hidden Gems

Topic: Books set in a mental institution

Club rule - Please, if you cannot be courteous and respectful, do not post in this forum.
Page:   Unlock Forum posting with Annual Membership.
Subject: Books set in a mental institution
Date Posted: 8/21/2009 4:31 PM ET
Member Since: 8/21/2009
Posts: 8
Back To Top

I am looking for books that are set in a mental institution like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, etc.  I am most interested in fiction where someone IS SANE and has been placed there against their will and is struggling to maintain their sanity while there.  Any recommendations are appreciated!

Date Posted: 8/21/2009 5:24 PM ET
Member Since: 3/27/2009
Posts: 25,000
Back To Top

"I am most interested in fiction where someone IS SANE and has been placed there against their will and is struggling to maintain their sanity while there."

Two come to mind:

Short Story: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Set in the late 1800s, the nameless main character is suffering from undiagnosed post-partum depression. She is not in an institution as you prefer, but she is locked up in an dilapidated mansion for her "rest cure."  It's a powerful story about role expectations, mental illness vs. conformity etc. I had to analyze this piece in an English class.

Girl Interrupted: A Memoir by Susanna Kaysen. Kaysen spent some time in the 60s in a psychiatric ward for borderline personality disorder.



Last Edited on: 8/21/09 5:25 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/21/2009 6:15 PM ET
Member Since: 1/8/2009
Posts: 2,016
Back To Top

"I am most interested in fiction where someone IS SANE and has been placed there against their will and is struggling to maintain their sanity while there."

I don't have any fiction suggestions, but some non fiction:

  • "On Being Sane in Insane Places." Academic article written by a psychologist who conducted an experiment whereby he and some friends presented to the emergency room with visual hallucinations, to see how they would be evaluated. They were all admitted to the psychiatric ward, where they immediately dropped all pretense. However, they remained inpatients for 7 to 52 days (average19)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosenhan_experiment
  • Voluntary Madness by Norah Vincent. Lesbian journalist who conducted an experiment posing as a man for a year and a half, but found herself "passively suicidal" afterwards. Her experiences in several different kinds of mental institutions.

I also would suggest not using terms such as "sane" in contrast to the rest of the patients at mental institutions. So the rest of the patients there are insane, or crazy? Such terms perpetuate the stigma attached to mental illness.



Last Edited on: 8/21/09 6:16 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/21/2009 7:00 PM ET
Member Since: 9/3/2008
Posts: 449
Back To Top

Jane Lindskold wrote Brother to Dragons Companion to Owls.  It's probably classified as fantasy but it is an interesting look at one girl/woman's release from an institution.

from PBS:

Cutbacks have forced Sarah out of the asylum in which she was raised- and into a strange new place where the Head Wolf rules the beautiful and the doomed.

But Sarah can never truly assimilate, for she possesses wild talents.
Walls tell her their secrets. Safes tell her their combinations.
And a favorite toy dragon whispers dire warnings about those who would exploit her for their own malevolent purposes.


Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 8/21/2009 7:11 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
Posts: 3,849
Back To Top

K-Pax by Gene Brewer is set in a mental institution...though I'm not sure that's anything like what you have in mind. 

Date Posted: 8/21/2009 7:33 PM ET
Member Since: 6/21/2008
Posts: 6,542
Back To Top

Wrestling with the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame
Author: Michael King
ISBN-13: 9781582431857 - ISBN-10: 158243185X

This book is a non-fiction but really a great book on this tipic.

Date Posted: 8/21/2009 11:08 PM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
Posts: 5,931
Back To Top

I didn't care for it all that much, but it sounds like it fits what you're looking for- The Heroines by Eileen Favorite focuses in large part on an adolescent girl wrongly commited.

Also Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane- fantastic thriller.

Date Posted: 8/22/2009 11:32 AM ET
Member Since: 8/21/2009
Posts: 8
Back To Top

Oh, I loved Shutter Island and Girl Interupted.  Thank you all for your recommendations!  I will be researching each this afternoon. 

Date Posted: 8/22/2009 2:18 PM ET
Member Since: 5/6/2009
Posts: 1,938
Back To Top

How about The State Boys Rebellion by Michael D'Antonio?  Not really a mental institution but more a home of the 'feeble minded'. I loved this book.  It was about eugenics and locking away young people from poor, uneducated families.

Date Posted: 8/22/2009 2:22 PM ET
Member Since: 8/3/2008
Posts: 87
Back To Top

You might like The Archivist by Martha Cooley.  The primary narrator is an older man who works as an archivist (imagine that) and the plot is driven by his involvment/friendship with a graduate student he encounters through work.  But a large section of the novel is his wife's journal during her stay in a mental institution.  I wouldn't say it's really about the struggle to stay sane (she might not be insane, but I think it's fair to say she's at least somewhat unstable), but more about where the line is, and how to deal with instability, uncertainty, and crushing guilt (the Holocaust forms part of the background).

If you like that one, you might also like The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve.  No institution--that I can remember--but I think the novel is similarly constructed and themed.

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 8/23/2009 9:20 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
Posts: 3,067
Back To Top

TomeTrader: Short Story: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

I love this short story. I also had to read it in college. The way it is written, the reader  starts to relate with the main character. It is a weird sensation to feel yourself going insane along with the main character, lol. (BTW, I also second Girl Interupted)

I would reccommend Catch 22. It is set in the army, but the main character goes in and out of a hospital and insists everyone else is crazy, not  him. It is  hilarious book.



Last Edited on: 8/23/09 9:21 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/23/2009 10:31 PM ET
Member Since: 3/27/2009
Posts: 25,000
Back To Top

The way it is written, the reader  starts to relate with the main character. It is a weird sensation to feel yourself going insane along with the main character

Exactly, it's such a trippy story. Very sad too. I wanted to kick some serious man butt after I read it.

 

Catch-22: I would reccommend Catch 22. It is set in the army, but the main character goes in and out of a hospital and insists everyone else is crazy, not  him

Yossarian, a pilot, is quite sane, it's the war that's crazy. He wants TBTB to think he's crazy so he will finally not have to go on any more missions. The quota for missions keeps increasing, btw.

Of course all he has to do is ask to be grounded, but to do so would reveal that he has a sane and rational mind. If you have a sane and rational mind, you don't get out of going on missions. Crazy people do though, so he has to act crazy.

At least, I think that's the gist of it.

 



Last Edited on: 8/23/09 10:42 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 8/27/2009 8:26 AM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2007
Posts: 5,272
Back To Top

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox  doesn't have the setting of a mental institution as it's main setting, but it is integral to the story.  It's a good book, but sad. 

Date Posted: 8/29/2009 7:10 PM ET
Member Since: 8/3/2008
Posts: 87
Back To Top

I thought of a couple more:  The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe and The Trick Is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway.  Both deal with mental illness, but I think the latter, about a woman struggling with depression, may be a little more in the struggling-for-sanity vein.  It's been a long time since I've read either, so I can't really give good synopses (though The Butcher Boy is quite famous, and I'm sure you can find some descriptions and reviews elsewhere).

Date Posted: 8/29/2009 9:02 PM ET
Member Since: 10/14/2005
Posts: 142
Back To Top

The Snake Pit by Mary Jane Ward. It's an old one which was made into a movie in the 1940s. The movie is good, too.

 

Date Posted: 8/30/2009 6:41 AM ET
Member Since: 8/21/2009
Posts: 8
Back To Top

Awesome, thank you all!

Date Posted: 8/31/2009 12:56 PM ET
Member Since: 7/2/2007
Posts: 62
Back To Top

I agree with the Snake Pit, I saw the movie (again) recently on TCM

A book, I read years ago "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" (the book came out before the song).  All I remember is that it's about a teenager or young woman with problems.  Another one was "Lisa (help me here, something about Bright or Light or something, anyone remember it?"

Date Posted: 8/31/2009 12:56 PM ET
Member Since: 7/2/2007
Posts: 62
Back To Top

Sorry, hit reply twice



Last Edited on: 8/31/09 12:58 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 9/11/2009 7:51 PM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2005
Posts: 5,326
Back To Top

Susan, could you be thinking about the movie from back in the 60's: David and Lisa with Keir Dullea?

I love love love K-pax but it sure isn't along the lines of Cuckoo's Nest.  K-pax was sweet, and tender, and joyful in a different way.

I felt so ripped off when I read Shutter Island.  I know I am in the minority.

Date Posted: 9/12/2009 8:36 AM ET
Member Since: 11/28/2007
Posts: 5,114
Back To Top

Don't forget The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. 

Date Posted: 10/6/2009 5:27 PM ET
Member Since: 6/21/2008
Posts: 6,542
Back To Top

"I am most interested in fiction where someone IS SANE and has been placed there against their will and is struggling to maintain their sanity while there."

Just finished Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale.  Generally thought of as a Regency Romance but this book is so much more.  You are taken to the estate where the treatment of mental illness included all the tortures of the day.  The Hero has a stroke that has left him violent with frustration and  unable to communicate.  A Quaker lady is assigned to try to reach him and rehabilitate him.  The writing about his thought processes are fascinating.  The process by which he reenters society of the day is also fascinating.  His family tries to have him declared incompetent to get ahold of all the money (he is a Duke).  Legal, banking  and mental health practices of the day and I learned about the Quakers.



Last Edited on: 10/6/09 5:33 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 10/6/2009 10:20 PM ET
Member Since: 1/30/2009
Posts: 5,696
Back To Top

Try Wilkie Collins The Woman in White.  One of my all time favorites.

Date Posted: 10/7/2009 6:55 AM ET
Member Since: 4/13/2009
Posts: 285
Back To Top

As a teenager, I loved reading  I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Hannah Green (pseudonym for Joanne Greenberg), http://www.paperbackswap.com/book/details/9780451160317-I+Never+Promised+You+a+Rose+Garden an autobiographical novel about a teenager who is institutionalized for self-destructive behavior.  She retreats into a fantasy world which she believes is real.

Date Posted: 10/7/2009 12:08 PM ET
Member Since: 5/3/2008
Posts: 10,419
Back To Top

Years ago I read the book "Will There Really Be a Morning?" an autobiography of Frances Farmer (actress). It is supposed to really be an autobiography but the person who actually wrote it fictionalized enough of it that it could be considered FICTION. The basic premise is that Frances was an alcoholic whose mother ushered her into a state mental facility in Washington and it was horrifying. If you can't get your hands on it through PBS, you may want to try the library.

Subject: Sane?
Date Posted: 10/24/2009 5:52 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2009
Posts: 10
Back To Top

Same type of thing, but different.  How is that for an opening sentence.  The book is called My Lobotomy, and is about an adult, who as a 12 year old was lobotomized, because he was high spirited.

Studies on him have shown that his brain, since it was done at such a young age, has been able to circumvent the damage.

It is very interesting, and makes me wonder if all of these "attention" drugs aren't more of the same?

Page: