First published in Viewpoint, vol. 15, no. 2, Winter 2007
Flynn attends the Royal College of Music in London. He has a close relationship with his friends Harry and Jennah. His Professors believe strongly in his potential. So why is he beginning to doubt it? Flynn starts ‘going underground’, taking to his bed in an inescapable lethargy. His thoughts become haunted by doom and failure. He believes himself deceptively talentless. And then, one night, he wants to jog the park in moonlight, and stay up writing an opera. His friends can’t keep up and soon, Flynn’s brother, a Doctor, is involved.
It is a testament to Tabitha Suzuma that A Note of Madness doesn’t begin with any specific incident. Not enough books explore the concept of depression as purely illness rather than the offspring of repressed childhood trauma, or the result of a shocking incident. Instead, Flynn struggles significantly with his unravelling, because he feels there is no reason for it. Unfortunately and realistically, this denial is shared by his friends, teachers, and family at the beginning. The internalisations of Flynn are haunting and effectively draw the reader into his alienation, his anger, his shame, and his hurt:
‘Trying to describe my feelings to you is like trying to describe colours to the blind… Nothing in my irrational mind can be solved by your common sense, none of my pain can be shared by your structured emotions!’ (p. 132-133)
Some parts of the novel require a slight suspension of disbelief. For example, none of Flynn’s close friends suspect Bipolar, even though the symptoms are so prevalent. It’s hard to believe, when he is diagnosed, that they need it fully explained to them. It is also lucky that Flynn’s friends and family are so understanding. As is his university. Even with a large hiatus from study he conveniently catches up. Throughout the novel, the only antagonist is himself.
Overall, the pressures and invasion of mental illness on a life full of potential are vividly expressed.