Award-winning British novelist Appignanesi (The Memory Man) has written a fascinating if somewhat diffuse study of how, over the past two centuries, women's ability to live creative lives has been controlled by culture, and how their unsuccessful attempts to rebel frequently lead to mental illness-itself a slippery, ever-evolving cultural concept. Appignanesi's sources are wide-ranging but largely literary, based upon letters, diaries, articles and fiction from feminist writers such as Betty Friedan, historians like R.D. Laing and Jacque Lacan, psychologists such as Melanie Klein, and troubled subjects like Zelda Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. Beginning with the lives of mentally ill women in the 19th century, Appignanesi moves chronologically through the history of psychology-as ideas like schizophrenia replace earlier notions of hysteria-and its relationship to the creative woman, using in-depth profiles of Virginia Woolf, Alice James and others. Looking at the complex cultural, political and familial circumstances under which mental illness emerges, and their implications for the present (in which depression and eating disorders have become major problems), Appignanesi convincingly asserts that ""symptoms and diagnoses... cluster to create cultural fashions in illness and cure,"" suggesting provocatively that ""what is at issue here is not psychic disorder so much as social deterioration of a radical kind.""