NERVOUS SYSTEM by Jan Lars Jensen


Or, Losing My Mind in Literature
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Jensen’s artlessly earnest memoir chronicles his descent into delusional paranoia upon the publication of his first novel (Shiva 3000, 1999).

A 29-year-old librarian in Canada at the time, the author was committed to a psych ward for several weeks after a failed suicide attempt (sleeping pills, but not enough to do the job). Jensen was convinced there was a marksman just outside the hospital window who was going to shoot him. It probably served him right, he believed, because he was about to cause “the end of the world” with the imminent publication by a large American publisher of his first novel, a SF thriller about the Hindu god Shiva. During his time at the hospital, the patient avoided contact with other people, lest he contaminate them. “I can’t put anyone else at risk,” he explained to a nurse. “It would be immoral of me.” Faithful wife Michelle visited constantly and seemed to want him to get well, yet she returned Jensen to the hospital in the middle of the night when his delusions didn’t go away. The author actually tried (unsuccessfully) to withdraw his novel from publication, fearing lawsuits by world governments. Several chapters of back-story delineate some possible causes of Jensen’s breakdown: stress, lack of sleep, anti-malarial drugs, “years of overcast skies,” a family history of suicide or simply fear of success. Living in the Mennonite community of Fraser Valley, where the sign “Prepare to Meet God” greeted him every day, didn’t help. The author even suggests that his malaise might have had roots in troubling books such as Silence of the Lambs. Whatever the causes, this was definitely the hard way for a writer to learn that his own book “would not set the world on fire.” Jensen’s account of his incarceration achieves an empathetic irony, but he might have done better to write another novel and put these details to greater, dynamic effect.

A pale addition to the rich literature of madness.

Pub Date: April 18th, 2005
ISBN: 0-7867-1562-6
Page count: 272pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2005