Hysteria: A memoir of illness, strength and women’s stories throughout history (Katerina Bryant, NewSouth)
In this ambitious debut, Katerina Bryant blends memoir, biography, history and cultural analysis in an effort to deconstruct the complex cultural frameworks that inform our understanding of women’s mental health and its treatment throughout the ages. Bryant first began experiencing chronic seizures or bouts of ‘depersonalisation’ in her early 20s. She soon discovers that accurate diagnoses are rare and treatment is expensive in the Australian mental health system. Although depersonalisation is the most common psychiatric symptom after anxiety and depression, Bryant writes, few know of or understand it. Bryant is at her best when she is explaining this largely unknown condition, her symptoms and her own personal experiences. Her research into the condition is thorough and she excels at writing memoir. Bryant’s recollections of her own feelings and observations of her friends and loved ones are intimate and genuinely insightful. However, the structure she has chosen for the book does not serve her narrative well. Biographical sections on famous bygone hysterics like Mary Glover, Freud’s Katharina and the ‘Queen of Hysterics’ Blanche Wittmann are fascinating, yet Bryant fails to create a true sense of cohesion between these sections and her own memoirs. Ultimately, the resulting sense of disconnection has a distancing effect and, along with Bryant’s tendency to rely on quotations rather than her own interpretations, lessens the impact of the book as a whole.
Angela Elizabeth is a freelance writer and critic based in Brisbane with 10 years’ experience in bookselling and publishing.