Reading Backwards

Book reviews by your favorite Git.

Darkness Visible

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By William Styron
For deeper understand, get your own copy: Amazon.com
Rating: Truthful.
Read: March 2005

A first-hand account by Styron of his own battle with depression, and suicide. It began as a lecture, was modified to an essay, and now stands 96 pages long by Amazon’s estimate. Modern readers should be forewarned that the style is semi-formal, with a rather genius ability to remain personal.


Styron was struck down in the 1980s, prior to the revolutionary discovery of Prozac. The book begins on a trip to Paris, where he is receiving an award. However, the Depression, which he has spent a year trying to deny, has become so severe that it leads him to offend his hostess, and the very next day he flies home to America for treatment. From there Styron explains the way in which his own Depression manifested, and what did and did not help him, leading to his stay in hospital.

Unfortunately, the book reads very much like Depression itself in its incompleteness. The narrative wanders between the chain of events being related, and information about Depression itself. Rather than showing the gruesome details of his mental state, Styron tells the reader fairly blandly, using language that should be emotive, but isn’t. It is as though the manuscript was written while in the throes of the disease, or on the brink of its return, and Styron has fought not to spill too much onto the pages, lest he unleash the demon once more.

I cannot blame him for being cautious, but I don’t feel that Darkness Visible will give a complete impression of the disease to someone not already well-versed in it. I did find his discussion of the history, medical documentation, etc, very interesting, and he pulls up several different symptoms that I myself did not experience, or had not been able to verbalize because they were not as prominent for me. On the whole, this is a much more intellectual work than, say, Prozac Nation, and it should be treated as such. Academics may gain more from it than the common reader, due to its language and tone.

Unfortunately, I now feel unfulfilled, and wish that I could sit down with Styron to discuss his personal experiences in depth. Although what he does reveal is insightful, it leaves much to be desired.

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Written by Shen

March 31, 2005 at 5:42 pm

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