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Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness [Paperback]

William Styron
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 8 1992 Vintage
A work of great personal courage and a literary tour de force, this bestseller is Styron's true account of his descent into a crippling and almost suicidal depression. Styron is perhaps the first writer to convey the full terror of depression's psychic landscape, as well as the illuminating path to recovery.

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Product Description

From Amazon

In 1985 William Styron fell victim to a crippling and almost suicidal depression, the same illness that took the lives of Randall Jarrell, Primo Levi and Virginia Woolf. That Styron survived his descent into madness is something of a miracle. That he manages to convey its tortuous progression and his eventual recovery with such candor and precision makes Darkness Visible a rare feat of literature, a book that will arouse a shock of recognition even in those readers who have been spared the suffering it describes.

From Publishers Weekly

A meditation on Styron's ( Sophie's Choice ) serious depression at the age of 60, this essay evokes with detachment and dignity the months-long turmoil whose symptoms included the novelist's "dank joylessness," insomnia, physical aversion to alcohol (previously "an invaluable senior partner of my intellect") and his persistent "fantasies of self-destruction" leading to psychiatric treatment and hospitalization. The book's virtues--considerable--are twofold. First, it is a pitiless and chastened record of a nearly fatal human trial far commoner than assumed--and then a literary discourse on the ways and means of our cultural discontents, observed in the figures of poet Randall Jarrell, activist Abbie Hoffman, writer Albert Camus and others. Written by one whose book-learning proves a match for his misery, the memoir travels fastidiously over perilous ground, receiving intimations of mortality and reckoning delicately with them. Always clarifying his demons, never succumbing to them in his prose, Styron's neat, tight narrative carries the bemusement of the worldly wise suddenly set off-course--and the hard-won wisdom therein. In abridged form, the essay first appeared in Vanity Fair.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
IN PARIS ON A CHILLY EVENING LATE IN OCTOBER OF 1985 I first became fully aware that the struggle with the disorder in my mind-a struggle which had engaged me for several months-might have a fatal outcome. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bullseye ! April 15 2004
By A Customer
This is the best description of what it is like to suffer depression I have ever read. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, and related to SO many of the authors problems. I was in a hospital for 3 weeks, outpatient for 4 1/2 and am still on partial disability. My wife is now reading the book so she can get at least some idea of what this is like. This really hit home,and I feel it is a must read for every sufferer of depression, and just as importantly, the key people in their lives.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Teddy
In this short but powerful memoir, William Styron, the author of "Sophie's Choice", tells of his personal battle with clinical depression.

Suffering from depression myself and working in the mental health field, I can honestly say he captured this debilitating illness very well indeed. I have tried to explain to my friends how I felt going through depression at my lowest, low. It's like sinking to the bottom of a well with no lifeline to hold on to, gasping for air.

There were so many things in this book that I could relate to first hand! People who have been lucky enough not to suffer from depression don't usually realize how debilitating it is. Symptoms are not just psychological, but there are many physical aspects as well. Styron explains this in a way that everyone, suffers and non-suffers can understand.

I still have some smaller bouts of depression at times, but it's more like treading water at the top of the well, thank goodness. Some of my experiences with the professionals were similar to his, but my ultimate recovery was a bit different. I was not hospitalized and my recovery took a lot longer.

This book is a bit dated. As I said above, I work in the mental health field. I can tell you that the hospitals that I have worked with, don't have the budget to do many of the programs that Styron had the fortune to experience, such as a lot of art therapy. It's a shame, because these would be beneficial!

Though this book is a little dated now, I recommend it for those that have suffered from depression and those who want to know more about what it is really like.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Too visible Aug. 14 2004
By A Customer
By now, most that are Styron fans know of his battle with depression. Couple this with his excellent writings about difficult subjects (think SOPHIE'S CHOICE) and you've got one heck of an interesting portrait of a writer and a man. I found DARKNESS VISIBLE to be spellbinding and frankly, I couldn't put it down. Would also recommend two other books: A BRILLIANT MADNESS and THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD for those interested in creativity and abuse or mental illness.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short and honestly descriptive account June 17 2004
Since I have suffered from depression, I can relate to this book in many ways. For me, it is uplifting in ways to hear an accout of another who has suffered in similar ways and to ultimately hear of his triumph over the disease. He describes the disease well, emphasing how difficult it is to exaplain to others the terrible disabilitating effects of the disease.
It is good that this book is a short, easy reader that does not waste time. The personal accounts are great. Lets others know they are not alone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic and Well Written June 25 2004
By A Customer
This is a fantastic and well written moemoir about the life of someone dealing with depression, the reasons behind the depression and the inspirational journey through the darkness and in to the light.
Several other good books in this genre are Nightmares Echo, Running With Scissors, and Moods and Madness.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Into the dark Sept. 7 2003
In this slim volume, William Styron documents his descent into near-suicidal depression and his eventual recovery to something near normalcy. He eloquently describes his condition, and discusses some things about depression and how it's sometimes different for each individual. By telling of his journey, he offers a sense of hope through the depths of depression. I do wish this book were longer, if only to hear more about his battle and to see more clearly the path he walked.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars moving essay on suicidal depression Nov. 26 2003
If you have never experienced depression - or have not learned what tools there are to cope with it - this is as good a place as any to begin to find out about it. Late in a successful life with a happy family, Styron was afflicted with a serious depression and nearly killed himself. He describes it with such anxious clarity that it is almost unbearable to read if you or someone close to you has suffered like this. He recovers, of course.
What is lacking in his story is a clear understanding of what it may have meant - why he became so depressed at that time in his life. Instead, it is viewed more as an illness that attacked him from the outside, though he does acknowledge some personal issues obliquely. And a large part of his cure is finding the right kind of medication, with talking therapy as an adjunct. This was disappointing to me, as I think that there must have been issues that meant something throughout his life and in the immediate circumstances that set it off. Instead, it appears we are to believe it is more genetic than environmental. Perhaps it is, but I would have preferrred more introspection and as such felt this was superficial. However, this is my bias.
Recommended as a starting point.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Short and Bittersweet Essay By a Survivor July 5 2004
Having wrestled with various mental health issues myself, I found Bill Styron's essay quite interesting. I recommend this book to anyone.
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