Though I’ve featured novels with psychiatric/mental illness themes before I have never dedicated an entire post to them. The human psyche is so interesting because of how fragile it truly is. Below are a selection of my favorite novels and memoirs about mental illness and those who treat it.
Dreaming for Freud by Sheila Kohler
A retelling of Freud’s famous Dora, Dreaming for Freud is riveting and disarming. Getting into the head of Freud and Dora puts the case in a whole new light. Plus, anything blurbed by Joyce Carol Oates and Amy Tan is good enough for me!
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Creepy, voyeuristic and impeccably written, The Virgin Suicides is an interesting representation of life after suicides. The book has all the sensuality of Sofia Coppola’s film with more story and substance.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Long before Gone Girl became a sensation, I picked up Sharp Objects and fell hard for Flynn’s writing. I even did a featuring her for my high school creative writing class! Sharp Objects is a mystery but with a twist, the detective suffers from a mental illness. As the mystery unfolds you begin to realize the book is much more an unraveling of the narrator’s mystery than it is a solving of a crime.
Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber
I’ve spoken elsewhere about this novel, but it’s hold on psychology warranted a mention. Every Psych 101 student hears about the strange Sybil case and learns to debate diagnoses by going through its rocky history.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Last but certainly not least is the book that is beloved by high school and college girls everywhere. Plath captures the frenzy and despair of being young and suffering in her remarkable prose. Every time I read this novel I find myself discovering new meanings and nuances — on my top ten favorite books of all time!
Have you ever read a book where you hate all of the characters? How about one where the narrator is so annoying you’re tempted to abandon the book entirely? Over the past two weeks I’ve stumbled across two books that fit this description. They suffer from what I’ll call “the Gone Girl effect.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love Gillian Flynn as much as the next girl. In fact probably more, since Sharp Objects is easily in my Top 5 Books I’ve Ever Read. Love for the author aside, Gone Girl irked me. There was no one to love and by the end I was so frustrated with all of the characters that I didn’t care how the mystery unraveled. However, this type of book seems to be an emerging genre of sorts and I thought I’d share some similar titles.
Antonia Lively waltzes into town with her much older boyfriend and turns everyone’s lives upside down. Rather than contenting herself with her debut novel, Antonia is on the look-out for a story to write. Under the guise of befriending the townsfolk, Antonia explores and exploits their secrets on the page.
As much as I wanted to love this one, especially since it features a small college town and an interesting group of writers, I just couldn’t get behind the idea of Antonia or the novel’s strange narration. However, it’s beautifully written and has so many redeeming qualities I’d recommend it to anyone who loved Gone Girl.
Method Read: e-galley
I first picked this one up as I was browsing in The Purple Crow. Since I have a rule to never leave an independent bookstore without buying something, I paid the staggering hardcover price. Perhaps not a great idea. I had very high expectations for this book. At first glance, it appeared a lot like The Bellwether Revivals, a book that easily topped my favorites list from last year. Both were set at Oxbridge, both had mysteries that eluded the police. Unfortunately the similarities ended there. Every Contact Leaves a Trace is narrated by Alex, a widower whose wife has died under mysterious circumstances. Alex is fairly likeable but unfortunately isn’t developed enough for the reader to care about his grief, or the ensuing investigation. The book is worth a look if you want a murder mystery with British flair, but pick it up at your library and spare your wallet.
Method Read: Hardback, purchased
I’ve already posted the books that I’ve been coveting this year, but I wanted to share my suggestions for stocking stuffers with you guys! I’ve read all of the books below this year and HIGHLY recommend them. Check them out and let me know what you think!
Astray by Emma Donoghue
- I’ll admit I’m usually not a fan of short stories – just when you get to know the characters they leave! However, since discovering The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits while on the Kenyon-Exeter Program (2010-2011) I have fallen in love with Donoghue’s short fiction. She has an amazing ability to introduce and develop characters in a very small space. Her newest collection, Astray, is about comings and goings, immigrations and emigrations.
- This is the only one that I didn’t discover in the past year. I snuck it in here because the sequel, Shadow of Night came out this summer. There’s so much to love about A Discover of Witches – set in the Bodleian Library, involves hints (or a lot, really) of the supernatural, strong female characters… Check out my view the sequel here.
- Previously reviewed here.
- Though her newest novel Gone Girl has received much critical acclaim, I prefer her earlier work. Sharp Objects was a bit of an underground classic at my high school and it became a secret code for my best friend and I. “WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart.”