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Monday, February 1, 2016

Novels about Mental Illness

In Canada last week, there was an event known as Bell Let’s Talk; the purpose of this mental health initiative is to encourage people to talk about mental health (a subject people are reluctant to discuss though 1 in 5 Canadians will experience some form of mental illness) and to raise funds for mental health organizations.  In the United Kingdom, there is a Beat Blue Monday campaign, an effort to raise a smile among the British public and funds for mental health charities.  These events had me checking Schatje’s Shelves to find novels that deal with the topic of mental health.  Here are 20 titles I found:

After Birth by Elisa Albert
The author never explicitly names postpartum depression in this novel about a woman in the first year of motherhood, but Ari’s resentment over her experience of childbirth, alienation from the rest of the world, and complicated feelings about her son ring true to the condition.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham
This novel which won the Pulitzer Prize was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.  The story reveals a single day in the lives of three women from three different time periods, including Virginia Woolf herself.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich
The Round House tells the story of 13-year-old Joe who is forced to grow up too soon after his mother is brutally attacked.   The author gives insight into the daily manifestation of PTSD, and offers the perspective of what it’s like to care about someone struggling with it.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
The heroine is a woman in a seemingly happy life but she is plagued by a nearly debilitating depression which nothing seems to ease.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Leonard, one of the main characters in this novel, lives with manic depression which affects his work, his friendships, and his romantic relationships.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald wrote this novel while his wife Zelda was in the hospital being treated for schizophrenia. Set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, the book is the story of psychoanalyst Dick Diver and his wife Nicole who also happens to be his patient.

The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
First published in 1892 and based on the author’s experiences with depression, the book is written as the secret journal of a woman who, failing to relish the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sentenced to a country rest cure. In the involuntary confinement of her bedroom, the hero creates a reality of her own beyond the hypnotic pattern of the faded yellow wallpaper.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Hannah Green
Deborah Blau, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, spends three years in a psychiatric hospital. Her story echoes the author’s experiences, and the doctor in the story was supposedly based on her real-life doctor, the German psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann.

Ordinary People by Judith Guest
Conrad tries to commit suicide after the tragic death of his older brother, so his parents send him to a psychiatric hospital. After his release, with help from his psychiatrist, Conrad examines his depression and attempts to understand his relationship with his mother.

Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
The novel follows the impulsive Elyria on a one-way flight to New Zealand, where she’s gone to try to forget about the life — her husband, her late sister, a spiraling depression — behind her. Her thoughts are ruminative and obsessive, and increasingly violent, and reveal the inner workings of depression and anxiety.

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
Dominick Birdsey, the narrator, is a 40-year-old housepainter, horrifically abused and emotionally unavailable, who has an identical twin who is a paranoid schizophrenic who believes in public self-mutilation.

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
Delores Price slowly unravels after dealing with a traumatic event as a young teenager. As a twentysomething woman, she spends years in an institution after a suicide attempt. She eventually quits therapy and attempts to rebuild her life on her own terms.

A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
Lee’s novel is a story of secrets and trauma that can’t be forgotten. When Franklin Hata is injured in a fire, he’s reminded of his painful past and the tortured woman he fell in love with during the war.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
The driving force of Murakami’s devastating novel is the depression which plagues Naoko, Toru, and the young man whose suicide brings them together. It’s an honest and lyrical look at the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness and helplessness that depression often brings.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Ozeki tackles depression from two angles:  through the protagonist, 16-year-old Nao, who falls into a suicidal depression after moving back to Tokyo, and through Nao’s father, who falls into a deeper depression after losing his job.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Originally published under a pseudonym, this is the semi-autobiographical account of Plath’s own clinical depression.  In stream-of-consciousness, she describes the emotional and psychological breakdown of Esther Greenwood, a woman struggling against self-destructive thoughts and overwhelming darkness.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
This novel tells the story of Pat, a young teacher who's just left a psychiatric hospital. The book portrays what it's like to live with depression, anxiety, and mood swings.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
What would you do if your sister asked you to help her commit suicide? That's the question around which the novel is framed. Elfreida, a successful concert pianist, asks her younger sister Yolandi, to help her commit suicide.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The novel focuses on A day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high society English woman. Through the character of Septimus, a shell-shocked veteran of World War I, the book criticizes the treatment of the mentally ill.  Apparently, Woolf used her own struggles with bipolar disorder to inform Septimus’s character.

Lowboy by John Wray
William Heller, a 16-year-old living with schizophrenia, escapes from a psychiatric hospital and ventures out into the underground labyrinth of the New York City subway system -- a metaphor for his own mind -- while his overprotective mother hires a policeman to find him.