Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher – Book Review

I am a reader and a researcher by nature. I love to take in new information, to understand new things; I love to sit in a chair while rain pours down outside, curled up with a book, learning some new story or some new fact of life that will help me understand my own world a little better.

I also happen to have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, a sort of madness that I live in but that does not allow me a better understanding of myself. I live with it but because of this I cannot observe it, objectively, from a distance, and see what it is doing to my life at all times. When I turned to Marya Hornbacher’s novel Madness: A Bipolar Life I was hoping for an objective perspective that would help clarify the disorder for myself; I ended up with a lot more than I bargained for.

To say that the book is objective would be, truthfully, misleading. Because Hornbacher experiences Bipolar Disorder Type I rapid cycling every day, she cannot give a perspective that an outsider would give. While this may have been what I was hoping for, the first person, jarring, in your face story that Hornbacher has created is so much better. I had hoped to find understanding.

What I found was a woman whose perspective on life is much like being on a roller coaster without the safety harness, a woman who struggles with self harm, a woman who struggles to separate reality from fiction all of the time. A struggle with a disorder so difficult to understand that even those afflicted with it turn to doctors and websites and support forums in hopes of having things just a little clearer, and a book which a reader with Bipolar Disorder can look at and say, “Yeah, that sounds like last Tuesday.”

Hornbacher takes her readers on a wild ride, filled with uncomfortable truths and all the lies that we tell ourselves when we’re ill in hopes of making it better. Her words are akin to looking into the madness and having it explained to you, the reader, page by page, in agonizing detail.

This was an excellent book and I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

For a reader with Bipolar Disorder of any type it’s like looking into your own skull and finding organization within the tangled mess of twine that is our emotions. Unnerving, addictive, raw; Hornbacher’s Madness: A Bipolar Life should be read by everyone wishing to understand the disorder for a loved one or for themselves. 

Elle Cunningham

Elle Rose Cunningham, sometimes called Gabbi Rose, is a 23 year woman who dabbles in art, stand up comedy, performance, writing, Let's Plays, and dramatic works. She is known for having created the internet group Unity of the Hula Hoopers which has now become the website In addition to contributing to, Elle is currently writing a memoir and posting the chapters as she does so on and writes a personal blog, In her free time she hangs out with friends and her cats.

8 thoughts on “Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher – Book Review

  • September 13, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    This book seems really interesting to read. The story of a woman who struggles in life kind of fascinates me. Life is not a fiction so we need to face the harsh reality and fight with it. Did you feel like you related to the woman in the story?

    Thanks for introducing this book. I need to grab one and read in my free time.

    • September 13, 2016 at 11:23 pm

      I would say that it is a very interesting read, and that I relate heavily to her. In fact several times I had to put the book down because it hit some painful places close to home, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I would argue that it’s a good thing, because it means she articulated the story with honesty.

  • September 13, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Great review. It sounds like a very interesting read. I like to understand the mind. But it’s not very easy because I think every single person’s view is different. But this should be a really good view into the life of a person living with bipolar disorder.

    What was your favourite part?

    Thanks again

    • September 13, 2016 at 11:24 pm

      I don’t think I have a favorite part. I think the part of it that stuck with me the most was where she was talking about her abusing alcohol though. The way she described just sitting outside a liquor store, crying because it wasn’t open, it reminded me of some ways I’ve felt in the past concerning some of my own addictions. I would say it’s definitely a great way to educate yourself on what it is like to live with the disorder.

  • September 13, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    Love this post and will definitely be reading the book! I have friends and family who suffer from bipolar disorder and I was diagnosed with it when I was younger along with some anxiety issues. Its hard to see yourself from the outside looking in and to learn what steps you can take to make a better life for yourself. Thank you for such a great post! Would you recommend any other books? I need a few more good ones.

    • September 14, 2016 at 11:11 pm

      Oh yes, I always have recommendations.
      I would definitely recommend anything by Marya Hornbacher. She has also authored “Wasted” and my next read, “The Center of Winter.” Even the articles I’ve read by her online are astounding; truly a genius with words.
      Another author I would recommend is Laurie Halse Anderson. It’s more youth fiction but more than one of her books portrays trauma fairly accurately. In fact I’m working on a review of her “Wintergirls” for this website right now.
      Besides that, I’m currently reading “Mila 18”, Stephen King’s “Night Shift”, “The Complete Works of Washington Irving”, and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. Oh, and “The Thief of Always”. All good reads that I would definitely recommend.
      I hope that helps you with your next reading choice – whatever you choose I guarantee it’ll be a good experience.
      And thank you for posting on this review! There will be more in the future, so the support is appreciated.

  • September 13, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Hi Elle,

    This is a great review. Even though I’m not Bipolar I have lived with depression, which caused serious highs and lows.
    It’s hard living with an illness that you can’t control or even understand. I am glad that Marya wrote this book. It will help many people, with and without the disease understand it better.

    Thanks for the review.
    Love and light.


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