A Note of Madness – Tabitha Suzuma

2006, Random House, 978009948731 (US, Aus)

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.

10 thoughts on “A Note of Madness – Tabitha Suzuma

  1. i’m trying to think of the title of that novella by dostoyevsky that i’ve read half a dozen times – dammit, what IS its name? the one with the young fella who murders his landlady? i’m sure you know the one i mean… it’ll come to me within two seconds of posting this, i know. anyway, i always thought that was a very incisive study of the descent of a mind into a black hole. the fellow obviously suffers from major-league depression and anxiety, along with all the other ego-driven problems… Ah, madness, life would be so dull without it.

  2. I have only read ‘Crime & Punishment’, but is it ‘The Double’? That is something I want to read.:-)

  3. crime & punishment. of course. and it IS his landlady he ‘offs’, isn’t it? what i found especially spooky about it was how well dostoyesvsky identified and described the guy’s paranoia. perhaps he was writing from experience?

  4. Hi Angela,thanks for reviewing this book, I will keep an eye out for it. I have been toying with an idea surrounding bi-polar for some time now, and any insight, be it fictional or otherwise is always welcome. Also, re your earlier post about Lolita; I wonder have you read “the unbearable lightness of being” by Milan Kundera??

  5. I’m afraid I haven’t yet Nichole. It is in fact on my unbelievably large list of books to read. 🙂 I would love to hear your idea. Email me! I have done a couple of reviews/essays and stories around the mental illness theme.

  6. Angela, altho I can strongly identify myself with Flynn, and I have no doubt on how prolific Suzuma is in weaving out the story in the novel, but somehow I don’t think I would want to read it. Does it make any sense?Oh, and OOT, as you know by now Kiran Desai is coming and I can’t go to Bali this year :(Still waiting for the whole schedule to be uploaded next month on the site… I dont know why I bother since it’s soooo obvious that I can’t go.

  7. You wouldn;t want to read it because it’s difficult to read something you’d relate to? Is that what you mean?Yes, sadly I can’t go to Bali this year either. But Byron Bay is coming up at the end of the month. Shame you can’t just fly over for that!

  8. i really liked this book, actually… no, a bit more than that… i could really relate to it, adn it helped me understand things that were happening to me, one way and another… and i’ve just given it to a friend who’s going through something similar. since i’m a musician too, Flynn is really quite similar to me… becuase of that, i’d probably say its one of the scariest books i’ve ever read

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