Book Reviews

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

If you are like me, this would be a book title that you have never heard of before. Thankfully I have book club as this was actually chosen for the month of September. It is now mid-October and after reading the book for over a month I have FINALLY finished it! Though I was unable to finish the book before book club met last month. I didn’t go to the discussion meeting without knowledge of what the book was about because I actually watched the Netflix version of the book! In this post, I will discuss both the book and the Netflix movie and if anyone out there has read this book or watch the movie I would truly enjoy input on what you thought!

The Book

Brain on Fire, the book has a longer title – my month of madness – fits the book perfectly. As for 1 month the author of the book Susannah loses her mind and doctors truly do not know why. Though this book is told from Susannah’s point of view she makes it very clear that there are parts of the book and her own story/ life during this time that she doesn’t 100% remember so some parts do come from videos and stories of that time from the people who were around here. I really liked that she was so up front and honest about that. What Susannah went through during her illness was not only scary but also horribly sad. It is very impressive that she not overcame her illness but that she has been so open with it. As is discusses towards the end of the book, her sharing her story/ experience has now allowed others who are suffering from the same thing to be diagnosed earlier and hopefully recover as she did.

The 1st thing I noticed when I got the book was that the picture on the front (which I assume is Susannah) looks a lot like Falen! As I began reading it became clear that this was not going to be a quick read for me. This was because the book was filled with details – don’t get me wrong I love details but there were a lot of medical terminology and things were constantly changing so I had to really focus which meant for me, reading slower. Overall, I thought the pace of the book overall was well done. She focused enough time at the start of the book explaining who she was before the illness then spent a good majority of the book digging into the time of her illness and recovery and then at the end showed who she was post recovery. I did think that the book could have been about 10 or so pages shorter, but that is just me. At book club others did say they wanted it to wrap up quicker as they thought there was too much time spent on the recovery – to each there own I guess. For me, one thing I really noticed in the book was the relationships that Susannah had and the role throughout the book that certain people played in her journey. She truly was surrounded by great friends, family, and co-workers and it was very evident in the book!

brain on fire

The Netflix Movie

The movie came out in 2016, just 4 years after the book was published. Chloë Grace Moretz played Susannah. I have to admit, I didn’t love her in the role which may have to do with why I didn’t love the Netflix movie rendition of the book. As I didn’t want to get any spoilers from the discussion at book club I opted to watch the Netflix movie when I was about ¼ of the way through the book. I of course started the movie out by noticing things that seemed like a big deal in the book but not appearing as big (or at all) in the movie. I get that movies usually don’t have as many details as they are on a time limit but some of the movie felt very rushed and choppy, things didn’t always seem to flow. Maybe that was the intention as Susannah’s mind was not 100% right during that time and we were supposed to possibly feel/ see what it felt like to have a “choppy” life? I am not 100% sure but it just wasn’t my style of movie.

Once the movie hit the point in the book that I hadn’t read it was somewhat easier to watch with regards to missing details as I didn’t know what her true story was (had I read the whole book then tried watching the movie I wouldn’t have been able to sit through it all). Watching the remainder of the book unfold during the movie I couldn’t believe all that Susannah had gone through – when I continued the book though I learned there was so much more! The movie truly lacked a lot of details, which I get a lot of book to movies do. However, as this movie was based off a real person’s story I thought that was disappointing. A big thing that bothered me in the movie was there didn’t seem to be any time stamps as to what was going on and when/ for how long. If there were time stamps I must have missed them but I remember thinking while watching the movie – how long has this been happening? I think knowing how long Susannah was dealing with things or what her time frame between getting sick and recovering was really added/ was a big part of her story – the book made this very clear when the movie did not. The other big difference for me was that the movie didn’t feel as emotional or connected to Susannah and what she was going through, possibly because the movie didn’t seem to go through things through her eyes more so as a story not a recollection of her experience – if that makes any sense.

Overall thoughts

Though the movie was not my favorite, it did the job of getting me a good overview of the story before book club. So, if you are in a quick fix to know what the overall story of Brain on Fire is then the Netflix movie is where it’s at! However, if you want more details and to get a better understanding of what Susannah really went through and have some time to committee to reading the book I would HIGHLY recommend doing it! Again, I would love to know what others have thought about both the book and the Netflix movie!


***cover / featured photo from google images


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