Review: Karen Tyrrell – Me & Her: A Memoir of Madness

Me & Her: A Memoir of Madness
Karen Tyrrell
It is hard to imagine what it is like for a person with mental illness, particularly one as ‘bad’ as bipolar disorder (manic-depression). The ravings and journalling of Karen while manic provide such a valuable resource that Karen plumbs for information to write this novel. It’s those formed into a relatively cohesive whole that allow the reader into a manic mind.

This has to be one of the first books I have ever read that is a memoir. I was attracted to it because I have a fascination with mental illness, although not nearly to the extent that Karen does when she is ill. I think it’s fantastic that Karen is going out of her way to speak out about her illness, because it is so often stigmatised unfairly.

This is a compelling read to an extent. The reader will experience with Karen her ups and further ups! It is amazing how Karen has managed to write so much about a time which she herself does not really remember. The sentence and paragraph introductions into each chapter provided excellent guidance for the reader, and are a sort of springboard. They gave you some idea of what was coming, and to prepare yourself for another psychotic episode.
Some parts of this novel were relatively repeditive, and it frustrated me that the reader was not trusted more to remember who the different characters were. Karen’s long suffering husband Steve has an autoimmune disease, which we are reminded of multiple times. We’re also constantly reminded of the different people Karen has worked or studied with, and their importance, when really I remembered that detail from before.
I felt that some of the text was telling instead of showing. I would have loved for some of the memories of the harassment at Karen’s school to be included more as distinct flashbacks, rather than rather dry encounters reported to her psychologist.
It is confusing that the end of this novel is about actually writing the book. The memories which the reader has accepted as occurring and Karen remembering them for us, are actually fragments that she herself does not remember until her husband tells her. This distances the reader in my opinion.
Some parts of this novel smack of self publishing. There are a couple of unusual line breaks, and some errors in punctuation. It’s really very minor, and perhaps that is part of the memoir genre, which doesn’t usually attract me as a reader.
Something I would have liked cleared up were the ages of Karen’s children. Michelle is shown driving, but she still lives at home and seems partially dependant on Steve and, to an extent, Karen. I wanted more of the other characters to shine through, although again I need to keep in mind that this is a personal memoir about Karen only.
I struggled with the psychic connections that Karen focussed on excessively. It was not clear to me whether the ‘real’ Me Karen believed in these things as well, or whether they were products of her delusional mind. I find it hard to believe that wellness living and alternative therapies were the turning point – but then I haven’t had great success with those myself.
As usual, I have been far better at picking apart the novel than complimenting it on what it does well. I did feel a connection with Karen, and I sat on the edge of my plane seat in anticipation as she went on and off her medication. The language rushed me through just as as if I had mania myself, but I didn’t feel a comparable slowness when Karen was ‘down’.
Lithium and Seroquel are both drugs I am familiar with, although I believe Seroquel is usually the American term for this drug. This book isn’t particularly distinctly Australian, but then it isn’t particularly American either. It could be almost anywhere that has private and public hospitals and a school system! I wasn’t aware of the involuntary commitment regulations, but then I imagine that not many people are aware. It does provide a fascinating insight into what those conditions are actually like – craft days seemed so inappropriate!

This is the first ever book I have won, yet I can’t give it a completely glowing review. It is worth reading if you are obsessive about bipolar disorder, or have an attraction to memoirs. Also, a number of people on Amazon (I don’t normally post to Amazon, but it has been requested by the author) have given it 5 star (for me: buy and reread frequently) or 4 star (for me: reread) ratings, when this was only a 3 star book to me. Perhaps I’m not the target genre. I wouldn’t recommend it as precisely light reading, although the language is relatively simple.

I received this book as part of a Goodreads FirstReads giveaway. This has not influenced my opinion, because all opinions are my own. Other people wishing to send me ARCs or books for review consideration are welcome to email me. I have a very short turn around time of around a week for most of the year.

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