In How Not to Kill Yourself, Martin chronicles his multiple suicide attempts in an intimate depiction of the mindset of someone obsessed with self-destruction. He argues that, for the vast majority of suicides, an attempt does not just come out of the blue, nor is it merely a violent reaction to a particular crisis or failure, but is the culmination of a host of long-standing issues.
Messy, confessional but ultimately beneficent ... This is a rough-cut book, not a polished gem... but I can see it becoming a rock for people who’ve been troubled by suicidal ideation, or have someone in their lives who is, and want to understand the mentality, which can seem utterly mystifying to the unafflicted.
The book is a blend of genres: part memoir, part self-help, part philosophical and literary exploration. I would even suggest it is part novel. All of this makes the book odd, as it constantly doubles back on itself to interrogate the very things that it is doing and saying. It is filled with trigger warnings, caveats, apologies and statements of mistrust ... Cautions circulate around his uncertainty about how to talk about his own experiences. Martin is constantly painted into a corner and he knows it ... Martin writes about the books that made him more suicidal, moving between philosophy, poetry and literature. He ultimately warns against them, despite the massive airtime they receive in his narrative ... Having written this piece, I too am now implicated, having enticed others to read this book and enter the long genealogy of suicide literature. I admire this book, admire what it wants to do and be. Whether it helps, I think, might depend on which side of the wall between hope and hopelessness that the reader is on.
Writing about others, Martin is insightful and kind. What appears much more difficult is finding a way to write with sympathy for himself. He returns again and again to material that he describes as humiliating or shameful, sources of his self-loathing, miseries, and guilt. He tries to contextualize these experiences through the literature of suicide ... He repeatedly shows us how much good advice he knows and yet has not followed ... Martin risks the limits of his reader’s sympathy. ... We are seeing a mind active on the page, exploiting the emotion for version after version of the story ... This shifting back and forth between fiction and nonfiction—considering an event from one angle, then another, then another—has a way in Martin’s hands of accumulating a sum greater than its parts ... Martin’s repetitions show the emotional work up close, as it is undertaken: ambivalently, uncomfortably, and not necessarily in logical order.