Saturday, January 10, 2009

One flew into the cuckoo's nest

First she posed as a man. Now Norah Vincent has gone under cover as a 'loony'. Alexander Linklater is intrigued by the result

To produce her first book, Self-Made Man, lesbian author Norah Vincent embarked on an adventure in "immersion journalism", spending a year disguised as a man. She emerged with a bestselling account of American masculinity and some unresolved mental-health issues. Though she does not clarify whether the strain of adopting a fake identity was a trigger, she suffered a depressive collapse towards the end of her research and wound up in a locked psychiatric ward.

Where Self-Made Man ended, her new book, Voluntary Madness, begins. After her breakdown, Vincent decided to re-enter the psychiatric system as a journalist, posing as a patient with a serious mental disorder. Unsurprisingly, as her immersion-narrative deepens, the distinction between Vincent as journalist and Vincent as patient dissolves. It turns out she has long suffered from depressive episodes that date back to a childhood trauma, the precise nature of which is revealed towards the end of her story.


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