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The International Writers Magazine

A Note of Madness by Tabitha Suzuma
Hardcover 205 pages (May 2006)
Publisher: The Bodley Head
ISBN: 0370 328698

Review by Gill James

his book needs to come with a health warning. It is so well written, that we almost become Flynn, the young music student. We almost go down into the dark spaces with him as his mental illness takes hold. Because of the age of the main protagonists, the novel will certainly appeal to young people who are in the middle of the hurly-burly of becoming adult.

That is why it could be dangerous. There are pressures for this age group. We live in a society which becomes ever more complex. The brain is at a fragile stage of it development, and is forming in such a way that emotions rule more than logic. Rampant hormones lead to mood swings. There is much in Flynn with whom the young adult could identify, and possibly persuade themselves that they are having the same experience, to the extent that they might mimic his behavior.

Ironically, the danger is greater because Suzuma so accurately portrays for us Flynn’s torture. We really are sitting on his shoulder as he has sudden busts of energy which make him stay up all night, jogging through the streets of London, composing operas and revising for exams. We too want to veg out in front of the TV or keep our heads down under the duvet when the depression kicks in. As his disease takes a stronger grip, he senses the futility of life, contemplates taking his, and makes us look more closely at our own. The author has managed to capture the perspective of a young person suffering from Doplar 2, better known as manic depression, in a much the same way as Haddon found the voice of the Asperger’s syndrome / savant in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

It is encouraging to see Young Adult Literature in the UK tackling some deep issues. This novel delightfully extends the range of what is available for young adults adding to an already rich mixture of chicklet-lit, gritty-but-everyday realism and fantasy. It really pushes the boundaries further than even the work of Blackman and Burgess and comes close to what is being produced in other parts of Europe.
For me, this book was a real page-turner. I wanted to carry on reading – to find out if Flynn managed to come to terms with his illness, whether he ever managed to perform the Rach Three in concert, and, of course, whether he managed to get the girl.

It is a pity that the text has been spoiled by one or two weaker points. I’m not sure that you can see quite as much as is mentioned, and certainly not in that detail, from the Hungerford Bridge, leading over the Thames from Embankment. I find it odd, too, that the three main characters, who knew each other before going on to higher education, stay together throughout their first year at college. It would have been more convincing if they had been second year students. Perhaps, though, the biggest fault is that the prologue – ten years into the future looking back at when the story took place – rather compromises the upbeatness – or lack of it – of the ending.

Still, perhaps that uncertainty is precisely what young adults appreciate in stories created for them. They like to decide for themsleves, what has actually happened.
Despite those slight niggles, I can thoroughly recommend this book. I long to read another one equally as absorbing and fascinating. I hope Tabitha Suzuma will come up with the goods.
© Gill James Jan 24th 2006

Gill James is the author of Nick's Gallery
and you can see more of her writing at

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