Sunday, February 3, 2013

Review: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg

Chestnut Lodge, the institution where INPYaRG was unofficially set
Reviewed by Christina

Published: 1964

It's about:  "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a semi-autobiographical account of a teenage girl's three-year battle with schizophrenia. Deborah Blau, bright and artistically talented, has created a make-believe world, the Kingdom of Yr, as a form of defense from a confusing, frightening reality. When Deborah was five, she underwent surgery to remove a tumor in her urethra, a traumatic experience that involved a great deal of physical pain and shame. During her childhood, Deborah suffered frequent abuse from her anti-Semitic peers and neighbors. When Deborah first created Yr, it was a beautiful, comforting haven, but over time the gods of Yr became tyrannical dictators who controlled Deborah's every word and action." (wikipedia)

I thought:  I'm not sure why I've always pegged this book as a sensationalized account of mental illness written to titillate the masses.  Maybe that first impression is the fault of the cover of the paperback copy I snatched from a beach house a couple of years ago.  I mean, look at it.  It does sort of seem to say "misery porn," right?

It's not that way.  It's an honest, well-rounded, memoirish novel.  It's more nuanced and introspective than I expected.  There is some real poetry in the language of Yr, and Deborah's attempts to translate it for her doctors mirrors the patient's struggle to communicate her world of psychosis.

But I can't say I loved it.  I'm still coming down off my Anna Karenina high, and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden was pretty much a rebound book.  I had a hard time getting into it, and I never really felt emotionally invested in the characters.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.  This is one of my favorite topics, and I'm pretty sure I would have liked it a lot better if I'd read it at a different time.  I don't have any legitimate complaints about it.

Reading Recommendations:  Don't read it right after Anna Karenina, I guess.

Warnings:  I can't really remember anything.  Maybe a swear or two and some vividly imagined violence.

Favorite excerpts:  “She now knew that the death she feared might not be a physical one, that it could be death of the will, the soul, the mind, the laws, and thus not death, but a perpetual dying.”

What I'm reading next:  The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love by Jill Conner Browne