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Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Review: Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent


I got this audiobook after reading Ms. Vincent's prior book, Self-Made Man. After months impersonating a man to infiltrate male-centric societies, Norah was so shaken by the experience, she checked herself into a mental hospital. While there, as an immersive journalist, her thoughts naturally went to: "This would make a good book!" And off she went...

She did not use that first experience in the book except to explain why she wrote it. So this book covers her experiences in 3 hospitals: an East Coast public hospital, a Midwest private hospital, and a West Coast private new-age spa-like hospital. As the prices went up, so did the services and the level of therapy. There was virtually none at the public hospital - Norah got 15 minutes of therapy per day there, which I found almost laughable. This place was also the one most focused on medicating patients. The Midwest hospital had a great psychiatrist who gave Norah daily off-campus passes and who didn't prescribe meds for her that she did not want. The third hospital had a lot of different kinds of therapy but most importantly, had a kindly, caring social worker who gave Norah insights she wasn't expecting.

I think that was the most interesting part of the book for me, and the most unexpected for Norah herself. She went into the project not wanting to lie, therefore she used her own name and her own medical records with their history of depression. However, she thought she was going to these hospitals purely for book research, and she wasn't expecting to get anything out of it. In the end, she got a lot (although not from the public hospital.) I found it interesting how even the most intelligent and educated among us can still be in serious denial about how much help we can use.

Initially I wasn't crazy about the narrator. I'm not sure why but her voice didn't match up to what I was expecting or it wasn't fitting with the emotions or something, but by the time I was halfway in, that wasn't a problem at all anymore. She'd grown on me. And one little negative about audiobooks in general: sometimes in paper books I will skim a little bit, such as over a section about how disgusting it was to eat with some of the highly medicated insane patients in the public hospital, but in an audiobook you can't, so I was thoroughly grossed out when if I'd been reading the print version I would have only been mildly grossed out as I would have glossed that section. I've listened to other books where the problem of not being able to skim came up but not in this way. It's interesting how listening to audiobooks really can be a very different experience from reading print.

I bought this audiobook from Audible.

5 comments:

Kristen said...

I totally agree with you on skimming in books! I like being able to pass over sections that I don't want to read, but I can't do that with audiobooks! I just started listening to audiobooks and this is one of the drawback for me.

Amy said...

Very interesting. Putting it on my TBR list now. Thanks for the review!

Dusty said...

When things are disgusting, I turn the volume down really low just so that I can tell when the next chapter or scene break is but not loud enough for me to really hear. It's not perfect but otherwise I have to do the loud "la la la la" until it's over.

Kate said...

Hey there! Just a quick note to let you know I linked this post over at Kate's Library in my "Friday Five". Have a great weekend!

avisannschild said...

I have Self-Made Man, which I haven't read yet, and this sounds like a great companion book. I hadn't thought about not being able to skim in audiobooks (I've never listened to an audiobook), but I can see how that could be a problem. Thanks for putting this book on my radar!