A trio of first person accounts about depression are coming out this year in England, causing Guardian scribe Stephanie Merritt (an author of one of the three memoirs) to call 2008 the year of the female depression memoir. These three books, Elle editor Sally Brampton's Shoot the Damn Dog, Lorna Martin's Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and Merritt's own The Devil Within, recount battles with bipolar disorder, post-modern malaise, and run-of-the-mill crippling despair. The article describes depression as a "hidden epidemic," and while I'm not British, I find it hard to believe that depression is a brand new malady in English society. Merritt goes on to note that it's been 13 years since Elizabeth Wurtzel's infuriating yet affecting Prozac Nation was published; do any of these women actually have anything new or remotely interesting to say on the subject?
Here's the thing: as someone who's been clinically depressed before, I can say without reservation that depressed people are fucking terrible to be around. They're whiny and boring and terrifically self-involved. Obviously it's their illness talking and depressed people should be treated with care and affection by their friends, but when you're reading a memoir, you're essentially hanging out with the narrator for 300 some odd pages. Unless these women are fantastic writers or have something revolutionary to say on the subject of X-chromosome blues, I imagine these books are going to be a painful slog. Just reading Merritt's piece in the Observer was an exercise in cliché and canned facts. "I couldn't cope with the smallest decisions," Merritt writes. "Often I didn't eat because the effort of deciding what wanted and then preparing it seemed as daunting as running a marathon." I'm not trying to belittle Merritt's depression, but her writing — that marathon metaphor? — is about as innovative as Wonder Bread. Not to mention the fact that she spends several paragraphs talking about the over-prescription of Prozac and other SSRIs, which was news in like, 1997.
I'll reserve final judgment until I read these books in their entirety, but in the meantime if you want to read a truly brilliant memoir of madness, check out Sophie's Choice scribe William Styron's Darkness Visible. If any of these new crop of bummermoirs comes even close to Styron's beautiful despair, I'll eat my hat.
A New Plague Facing Women [Guardian]
Earlier: <a href="http://jezebel.com/gossip/sigh/elizabeth-wurtzel-hot-crazy-depressive-genius-writer-slut-is-now-40-316249.php
Elizabeth Wurtzel, Hot Crazy Depressive Genius Writer Slut, Is Now 40">Elizabeth Wurtzel, Hot Crazy Depressive Genius Writer Slut, Is Now 40
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