I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg review – rock bottom in a ‘rest home’

First published in 1964, this striking account of Greenberg’s years in a psychiatric hospital reveals her boredom and fear – and the ignorance of the era

At the beginning of Joanne Greenberg’s striking 1964 autobiographical novel, now reissued by Penguin Modern Classics, is a one-way journey. Deborah Blau, 16, is with her parents, who try to normalise the trip: stopping at a diner, catching a movie. But there’s no getting away from it – her parents look upon her as a “familiar face that they were trying to convince themselves they could estrange”. Deborah has schizophrenia, with episodes of psychosis that they can no longer manage, and they are taking her to a psychiatric hospital.

Deborah has retreated to an imaginary world she calls Yr, speaking a language nobody else understands. As we unpeel her past – a tumour in childhood, experience of antisemitism – it’s not surprising that she doesn’t consider our world to be a good fit. But we see the anguish not only of Deborah but of those around her: no one is guilty here; all are suffering. When her parents return home, they are tortured by what they have done, but admit that the family now has periods of “calmness, even of happiness” without her.

Continue reading...


‘It’s the best way to live!’: International Booker winners Geetanjali Shree and Daisy Rockwell

The Indian novelist and her translator scooped the £50,000 prize with Tomb of Sand, a novel about de...

Read More >

Translating Myself and Others by Jhumpa Lahiri review – the sanctuary of language

The novelist’s collection of essays on translation only hint at what led her to take refuge in Ital...

Read More >

The Opposite of a Person by Lieke Marsman review – climate and Copernicus meet in the Italian Alps

The impact of blowing up a hydroelectric dam, the limits of identity politics and the Renaissance po...

Read More >

The best recent translated fiction – review roundup

Portrait of an Unknown Lady by María Gainza; The Trouble With Happiness by Tove Ditlevsen; The Land ...

Read More >

We Move by Gurnaik Johal review – a colourful tapestry of multicultural lives

Johal weaves stories of Southall citizens with economy and skill in this compelling debut collection...

Read More >

The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson review – scenes from a marriage

The author’s very funny fifth novel, about two artists and their toxic relationship, deserves its p...

Read More >