Darkness Visible a memoir of madness

by William Styron

Paperback, 1990

Call number




Vintage (1990), Edition: Later Printing


Biography & Autobiography. Psychology. Nonfiction. 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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
This is my second read of this book and it's been a long time between. I read it in 1985 during the tail end of a long-term crash I survived and it was resonant, although painful - the latter is why I haven't read it again 'til now.

Styron suffered from a gruesome acute episode of depression, but
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I've always thought that crash was the culmination of years of depression kept more or less at bay by alcohol. I suffer from chronic depression and panic disorder and have my whole life so I know a bit about all the things one does to stave the uglies off. I've always found Styron particularly difficult to read, although he writes beautifully, because most of his work is suffused with melancholia and affects my mood in ways that aren't necessarily healthy for me. Nonetheless, this memoir captures the feeling of depression (and the thinking) very well.

Depression has its own individual flavors depending on who you are, but the worst of it is the sluggish mind and the total incapacitation. It's life-threatening (and, trust me, you know it and that's really scary until it isn't). It's prevalent at the holidays which generate expectations that are very hard to fulfill leaving many stranded on its shores.

Darkness Visible isn't a cheerful book, but it's a brave one. Beautifully written it will give you insight into a landscape I hope none of you ever see.
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LibraryThing member justicefortibet
Finally, a book on depression written by someone who actually KNOWS what it is to feel this way. Although I can't share Styron's optimistic, happy ending that most people can be cured of depression, he does give real, understandable explanations of how it can feel, that can be understood by someone
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who has not suffered through it.
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LibraryThing member MacsTomes
I didnt rate this book; the intimate nature of this essay, its deep introspection makes it defficult to assign a rating to it. I found the book helpful in my own life, yet very painful to read.
LibraryThing member BruderBane
As a fellow sufferer and ardent supporter of mental health issues, I found Mr. Styron’s autobiographical essay on depression to be edifying. His use of such rich descriptive narrative and his propensity to be especially forthright engenders those people who aren’t afflicted with depression to
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have true sentience for his own situation and those who are similarly afflicted. If you are interested in the experiences and nuances of mental illness, read this short and electrifying piece of literature.
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LibraryThing member Crowyhead
This is a brief, beautifully written memoir of one person's experience with depression. One thing I really appreciated about this book is the unflinching way Styron looks at and discusses suicide. Even very good books about depression dance around this topic; it's very difficult to discuss. But
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Styron looks at it head-on and to some extent demystifies it.
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LibraryThing member 1morechapter
In this short memoir chronicling the author’s own bout with depression, Styron gives us a glimpse of the pain and madness of the disease. Styron not only provides us with details of his own illness, but also expounds on the suicides and/or depression of other authors. He also gives guidelines and
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suggestions for action to those who have a loved one suffering with the disease.

Styron was the author of Sophie’s Choice and the Pulitzer Prize winning The Confessions of Nat Turner. He died in 2006 at the age of 81 from pneumonia.
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LibraryThing member dianemb
I would recommend this book to anyone who has a close friend or family member suffering from major depression. It contains the most accurate description of the incredible suffering endured than any other book I've read.
LibraryThing member jeaneva
If you've ever suffered from clinical depression, this book can provide a ray of hope. Even suicidal depression is not necessarily fatal. The author of Sophie's Choice (among others) was able to describe the agonies he endured and chronicle his recovery. About eighty pages long-- Newsweek magazine
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said, "Never has Styron used so few words so effectively."
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LibraryThing member SmithSJ01
There are definitely more in depth books on the market about this topic but I think this a good short insight into depression. 3.5 stars would be more apt but not quite 4 as I felt it needed to focus more on feelings and emotions than it did. However as the title is 'Darkness Visible' then it is
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right, the book looks at the visible tangible feelings he felt and also the visible signs/symptoms to those around him.

The book is about Styron's plummet into the world of depression and ultimately on to the brink of suicide. Whilst I haven't read any of this author's work (and in fact I might take a look at them now) I did find his account of his depression touching and insightful. I got the feeling he maybe only published this story because others thought it was a good idea, rather than making the decision himself - I may be wrong, but that was my impression from the introduction.
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LibraryThing member bibliobibuli
This is a very slim volume, just 84 pages long, which started life as a lecture given at a symposium sponsored by the Department of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. It was later developed into a piece for Vanity Fair before being published as a book.

Styron was hit by
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serious depression at the age of 60, and describes most evocatively his own struggle with the life-threatening illness from first symptoms, through his treatment, his brush with suicide, hospitalisation to eventual cure. Along the way he includes the stories of friends and others so afflicted - many of them also writers.

It's the honesty of the book that makes it so compelling. It was one of the first "insider" accounts of depression, and captures extremely well just what it feels like. (You have to have been there to know.) I agree with him that the word "depression" is totally inadequate, sounding more like a mild case of the blues rather than something that fills your soul with dread and despair.
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LibraryThing member sailornate82
This is a wonderfully conceived and written account of Styron's struggle with depression. Despite the voracious honesty and exceptional narration construction, I think the most impressive aspect of the this short work is the bare-bones writing, which makes the 84 pages of text feel more like a
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thoughtful whisper.

Even if one has little or no experience with chronic melancholia, this is a very illuminating and enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member laVermeer
A harrowing, articulate exploration of Styron's experience with depression at age sixty. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member Sullywriter
Honest, candid account of the author's devastating bouts of intense depression.
LibraryThing member RRHowell
As a personal memoir of depression by a superb writer this is an extraordinarily useful book for giving someone insight into what depression feels like.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Portrait into mind of clinical depression. Short, but very descriptive and poignant.
LibraryThing member mjscott
Author explains very clearly and emphatically how mental illness is trivialized in our culture. Expectations are lowered if you've broken your jaw, but if you are depressed you are expected to work, socialize, as usual. Otherwise hard to emphasize with him. Noonday Demon far better.
LibraryThing member joemmama
This is a tiny book, but it is one of the most powerful descriptions of depression I have ever read. "A Memoir of Madness" is the perfect subtitle for this book.

In October of 1985, Styron is in Paris to accept an award, when he realizes he is plunging into a deep, dark depression. He ends up
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hospitalized, and with the help of many professionals, he regains his sanity.

With the use of actual suicides, from Randall Jarrett, the poet, to Abbie Hoffman, he examines the causes and the effect it has on the mind. The despair that grows deeper with each hour, until it seems there is no end to it.

Styron stopped drinking, and blamed his rapid descent into the deep dark hole of depression on this fact.

As one who has suffered and battled with depression, I fully understood his despair, and the thoughts that tormented him. I applauded his recovery, and was cheered by the thought that there is a light at the end of the tunnel (and it's not the oncoming train).

I received this from Net Galley for review. Thank you!
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LibraryThing member PollyMoore3
I have never read anything better than this short book for conveying the flayed rawness of depression, literally beside oneself because the normal place you occupy inside yourself is not there, and you are at every single moment trying to find it and slipping off.
"For in virtually any other serious
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sickness, a patient who felt similar devastation would be ...... at the very least in a posture of repose and in an isolated setting. His invalidism would be necessary, unquestioned and honorably attained. However, the sufferer from depression has no such option and therefore finds himself, like a walking casualty of war, thrust into the most intolerable social and family situations. There he must, despite the anguish devouring his brain, present a face approximating the one that is associated with ordinary events and companionship. He must try to utter small talk, and be responsive to questions, and knowingly nod and frown, and God help him, even smile."
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LibraryThing member mausergem
This is a book about depression and William styron's attempt to fight it. He begins with an anecdote about his behavior in Paris where he had gone to receive a literary award. He ends up contradicting the benefactress, losing the cheque and forming firm beliefs of his not returning to Paris ever
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Starting at the beginning his troubles started when he develops nausea of alcohol (he being a long term alcohol consumer). His describes his gradual slide into the depths of melancholy. On the verge of suicide he decides to seek professional help and gets hospitalized where he stays for seven weeks and gets better.

He describes the disease as a "brainstorm" with loss of his normal circadian cycle, constant anxiety and a gloom set on all things around him.

This is a very short book and thankfully so. You won't want to read 500 pages of lamenting, would you?!
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LibraryThing member lycomayflower
Styron tries to explain what severe depression feels like in a long essay. Some revealing passages here, and, on the whole, I think he probably succeeds in trying to put across to readers who have never experienced depression some sense of what this disease does to someone. My lowish rating is a
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reflection (as always) of my experience of reading it (not of my opinion of its independent worth) and is a result of my disappointment in not finding much new here. That, in turn, almost surely stems from a better understanding in the lay population of depression itself now than when Styron was writing in the late 80s. I would recommend it to anyone looking to understand depression from an anecdotal, rather than a medical/professional, point of view.
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LibraryThing member jianlyn
Beautifully written memoir about a famous writer who suffered from depression
LibraryThing member labwriter
What I liked most about Styron's book was his discussion of the onset of his depression, the fact that he first experienced it around age 60 and the possibility that it was delayed by a "lifetime" of alcohol abuse. He became suddenly, physically incable of taking a drink--and then came the
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depression shortly after. The book is an expansion of a lecture and then essay that appeared in Vanity Fair. I was disappointed that it was so short, but evidently he said what he wanted to say on the subject.
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LibraryThing member waldhaus1
I bought this at least partly because I am a big fan of Styron. I have experienced depression, Albeit never severe.
LibraryThing member polarbear123
This book does reflect exactly the feeling of severe depression, there is no doubt about that. Reviews which did not connect with it overwhelmingly have come from people who confess that they themselves have not known depression. This is the closest I have got to reading a book that reflects how I
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have felt with my struggle with depression. I have read a few. I did not find this book to be full of self pity but realism about the actual disorder. One for people who have experienced it really - as Styron says , people outside the disorder will never be able to understand it, and it therefore follows that they will never fully be able to connect with this book.
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LibraryThing member Michael.Rimmer
Styron's description of his journey into and away from depression is heartfelt and unflinching. I feel I've only been in the outskirts of a place he's travelled through. There's no map that any other person can follow, no photos or artist's impressions of the terrain, as the landscape can't be
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described, only felt. Nevertheless, Styron's dispatch from his personal hell does bring some light to the darkness, a hope that if fellow travellers have returned from the dark bourne of depression, so might we.

I was saddened that Styron fell for the falsehoods of "chemical imbalances", a lie concocted at the desks of the marketing department, not in the pharmaceutical lab; and that the DSM has any legitimacy given its own editors admit that it has no scientific underpinning and is actually useless as a diagnostic tool. I hope anybody reading these sections won't take them at face value
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