Darkness visible by William Styron
William Styron built his reputation on well-regarded novels such as Sophie’s Choice and Lie Down in Darkness; but with this memoir, written late in life, he gained a new and even wider audience. Major depression hit Styron, without apparent reason or warning, when he was at the peak of his successful writing career. Only years later did he describe the experience in this sensitive and very personal account of descent into “madness”.
Few attempts to express the nature of depression have succeeded as profoundly as Darkness Visible. Many have written on the topic, but few with Styron’s poetry and eloquence. He manages to describe aspects of this illness which are, to many sufferers, impossible to express – both because the pain of deepest depression is beyond words, and because the disease itself reduces one’s ability to communicate.
As Styron points out, the term “depression” is itself hopelessly inadequate: “a true wimp of a word” which has “slithered innocuously through the language like a slug, leaving little trace of its intrinsic malevolence and preventing, by its very insipidity, a general awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease”.
This is a unique account of an often misunderstood disorder, written by someone who is also a literary master. A sometimes taxing read, but worthwhile if you’ve experienced depression and are looking for a sympathetic personal account, or if you’d like to gain a greater understanding of the condition from the inside.
(Review by Olivia Rose-Innes)
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