“Set in the turbulent 1970s when Patty Hearst became Tanya the Revolutionary, Hystera is a timeless story of madness, yearning, and identity. After a fatal accident takes her father away, Lillian Weill blames herself for the family tragedy. Tripping through failed love affairs with men and doomed friendships, all Lilly wants is to be sheltered from reality. She retreats from the outside world into a world of delusion and the private terrors of a New York City Psychiatric Hospital. Unreachable behind her thick wall of fears, the world of hospital corridors and strangers become a vessel of faith. She is a foreigner there until her fellow patients release her from her isolation with the power of human intimacy. How do we know who we really are? How do we find our true selves under the heavy burden of family and our pasts? In an unpredictable portrait of mental illness, Hystera penetrates to the pulsing heart of the questions.”
The story of and behind mental illness is one that has always intrigued me. The approach taken to the mentally ill in literature is also something that I find extremely interesting especially those that are true in nature. It’s always fascinating to view life through another’s eyes especially when that individual may see it in a way that is unique or in some cases not typical in nature. When we read about life from another’s perspective we learn a lot that we might not otherwise have ever discovered within ourselves and I think in the case of a character who has a mental illness it is essential to try and open ourselves to something we may not understand on the surface. While not a real life account, this novel felt very first hand and intimate from the very beginning and it really felt as though you were as close to the main character as you could possibly be, as though you were in fact “in her head”.
Hystera is a work that takes a front seat approach by giving the telling of the tale directly to the “patient” and in that way comes across as very genuine and true. The character of Lilly is one of an individual marked by suffering. When we first meet her we are introduced to a young woman searching for an escape from her own mind which when you think of it is pretty terrifying in and of itself. Our mind may truly be the one thing we cannot escape no matter what we may do to try and try Lilly has. Our protagonist has taken the ultimate step of escape by trying to take her own life but when that is unsuccessful she instead finds the psychiatric hospital not as an escape but perhaps a kind of respite. While it is a place that both comforts and frightens her, in the end the hospital itself at least provides a place where she can sort through where she is in her mind, how she got there and what she might do to try and get back.
The telling of Hystera is very broken and abstract which I found to be somewhat relative to what Lilly is suffering in her world. The narrative flashes from past to present, from the every day routines of life and the small moments that consume most of our time to the bigger picture or collective thoughts of a troubled individual and beyond to larger issues in society and life itself. The author has really made an effort to accurately portray the time period in which the story is based by creating a setting that is authentic both within the hospital and out into the world of that time. Current events and notable figures play a prominent role as well taking the story from a very personal place within Lilly out into the actual real world. The reader is shown how everything has and does affect this one individual from her family life and childhood to her current situation within the hospital and her place among it’s patients.
I found Hystera to be a very unique reading experience. It’s not a book that will appeal to everyone and in fact I think will be ideal for a very small, select audience. For myself I found the book to be intriguing in many ways but I have to admit it was not really my cup of tea although I do see where it will have it’s place and reading audience. I think the individual that will enjoy this work will be interested immediately by the description.