A Note of Madness (Tabitha Suzuma)

28 03 2011

The cat had Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden in her Amazon basket for a while before she finally ordered it  (much of this was due to Joanna Kenrick who suggested reading some of Suzuma’s writings). Anyways, the cat’s a bit autistic, so instead of reading the current cult hit Forbidden first, she decided to start with Suzuma’s debut A Note of Madness.

Flynn is talented pianist at the Royal College of Music in London, he’s got a small circle of good friends, a loving family, but when he starts to prepare for a big concert, ‘madness’ strikes and suddenly he can’t believe how he managed to con people into believing he was ever any good at playing the piano, and starts losing all sense of self-control.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Flynn is suffering from bipolar disorder (what? The running at night time or the writing of an opera in a matter of hours, or the not being able to get out of bed for days or even the hanging outside of a window, didn’t tip you off?).

Many many many eons ago the cat was a teenager too, add to that dozens and dozens of YA-novels in the span of a couple of years, and by now the cat knows that a teen’s life is never uncomplicated, easy, normal, protected… I get that writers feel the urge to ‘educate’ their readership. Tabitha Suzuma does just that: straightforward prose, no real shock tactics, the plain hard truth about what Flynn’s manic depression is all about. We get to see the symptoms,  we get to see the reactions of family and friends, the diagnosis, the treatment (in Flynn’s case lithium), the reaction to (and rejection of) the drugs, the relapse… etc.

For anyone who’s interested into getting an insight into bipolar disorder, this is the ideal book,  no doubt about it.  Just to illustrate this, here’s a few things that Flynn says. First about his down periods: “Trying to describe my life and feelings to you is like trying to describe colours to the blind, or music to the deaf. […] You exist in the world of the rational, the world where every problem has a logical solution, every questions has an answer. Can’t you see that none of my problems have solutions, my questions can’t be answered? Nothing in my irrational brain can be solved by your commons sense, none of my pain can be shared by your structured emotions! I my world black is white, and one and one never makes two and agony and ecstasy lie irrevocably intertwined.”  (p. 132-133) During one of his up periods he thinks: “I’m the Royal College’s top pianist. He ran up the incline to the top of the hill, barely out of breath. At the top he spun round, arms outstretched, laughing at the sky. He was alive again. His body was fizzing, his mind was buzzing, and the manic beat of the music made him want to leap and shout. The air around him felt electric. Anything is possible, he wanted to shout at the sky… ANYTHING. […] I’m damn good. Nothing can knock me down. You won’t slow me down with pills. You won’t slow me down with anything.” (p. 254)

But here’s the catch… whatever makes this the ideal book to learn something more about bipolar disorder is also the thing that makes this book so predictable and totally unsurprising. There’s never a twist or turn – Flynn’s hyper moments  are just predictably hyper – that knocks me off my socks (OK, so I was a bit – by unpleasantly so – surprised that Flynn’s brother Rami (a doctor!) didn’t recognize the symptoms sooner). Suzuma’s writing is also too straightforward to make me feel any of the ecstasy that Flynn experiences during his ups. Straightforward writing, yes… but at the same time what did actually bother me more than the predictability of it all, was the switching between 1st and 3rd person narration (both Flynn’s apparently). I don’t quite know what to make of this. Is it an attempt to ‘show Flynn’s twisted mind’? It may work for you, but for me it just detracted from really getting into Flynn’s mind – which was,  for all intents and purposes, what Suzuma set out to do.

I will read Forbidden (Suzuma hasn’t really put me off or anything), but I do hope there’s more there to surprise me than there was in A Note of Madness.



One response

24 07 2012
Beach Reads « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] way. Obviously, after this book came out, a string of books with similar such Serious Topics (teen depression, suicide, auto-mutilation, anorexia (here and here)) has been published. For putting self-harm on […]

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