Top 10: books about insanity

This month, we descend into madness with the best of fiction and non-fiction exploring insanity.

Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


  1. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A woman is confined to her attic bedroom and isolated from her newborn baby.
  2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. At school Esther Greenwood worked hard and got the grades. Now, as an intern for a magazine, life starts to slide out of control.
  3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. McMurphy fakes insanity to serve his prison sentence in a psychiatric hospital instead of a prison work farm. But he doesn’t reckon on the absolute rule of Nurse Ratched.
  4. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. A man suffering chronic insomnia finds relief by impersonating a seriously ill person in several support groups.
  5. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Jane Eyre’s wife in the attic gets a voice.
  6. Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet. A woman seeks out a captivating psychotherapist she believes is responsible for her sister’s suicide. Soon she is drawn into a world in which she can no longer be certain of anything. Even her own character.
  7. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. A boy envies the gentry family in the village where he lives. As he grows up and becomes a doctor, envy turns to psychopathic obsession.
  8. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. A young woman escalates her use of prescription medications in an attempt to sleep for an entire year.
  9. The Shining by Stephen King. A struggling writer and recovering alcoholic accepts a position as the off-season caretaker of the remote Overlook Hotel.
  10. Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. An impoverished student commits a murder to liberate himself from hardship and go on to perform great deeds. He soon becomes wracked with paranoia.
Edward Norton and Brad Pitt as the Narrator and Tyler Durden in Fight Club
The Galvin Family, the subject of Hidden Valley Road


  1. Down Below by Leonora Carrington. Memoir by the surrealist painter and novelist, who suffered a psychotic break following the arrest by the Gestapo of her lover and fellow surrealist, Max Ernst.
  2. Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kilmer. Of Dom and Mimi Galvin’s 12 children, six were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The family were one of the first to be studied by America’s National Institute of Mental Health. 
  3. Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly. The intrepid journalist feigned insanity to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island), New York.

If you liked this literary list, see here for more Lit Lists and book reviews.

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