Warning: possible trigger.
‘A Note of Madness’, the debut novel by Tabitha Suzuma, follows the life of Flynn Laukonen, a first year piano student at the Royal College of Music as he develops bipolar disorder (or as the title puts it, “madness” – perhaps a little politically incorrect? But then, I suppose ‘A Note of Bipolar Disorder’ doesn’t have the same ring to it…). My best friend recommended this book to me a couple of years ago now, and due to my current situation, I thought the time was right for me to give it a read.
I’m not entirely convinced I made a good decision – it was somewhat triggering, and after certain passages, I was left feeling a little shaky. Although I don’t suffer from the same illness as Flynn, some of the descriptions of his attitude towards life really hit home:
“At school…he had been a big fish in a small pond. He had been the star of every school concert…It had been a shock to arrive at the Royal College of Music here in London and find himself surrounded by students who practised as hard as he did, if not harder…You had to fight to stay on top and there was always, always, someone just that bit better than you.”
“When the chips were down he couldn’t play a note…The music had disappeared into some kind of abyss and he was unable to retrieve it. He was a fraud, he was an idiot and, worst of all, he couldn’t play the piano to save his life.”
“I can barely play at all. I don’t practise because I can’t. I can’t read the notes and I can’t remember the music. It’s all just a con. And the crazy thing is that I haven’t been found out yet.”
This is exactly how I feel in day-to-day life. All my life I have strived to do well and get recognition for my success, but not out of narcissism – I was never “raised” musical, I never came from a background where my parents pushed me to be really good at one particular thing, so naturally I had to push myself. I needed to measure up to my peers who had been brought up differently and therefore seemed naturally talented. Since starting university, I’ve realised I’m no longer one of the “talented” ones and I’ve found my confidence reduced to nothing – I’ll never be able to compare to some of my coursemates. Reading these passages of ‘A Note of Madness’, surprisingly, did little to comfort me.
On the whole, I found the characters in ‘A Note of Madness’ to be rather underdeveloped and as a consequence, I never really felt emotionally attached to any of them. The plot was also very linear and predictable: healthy state of mind, trigger, onset of bipolar, resistance to treatment, treatment, recovery, relapse, recovery. It also went into the details of bipolar a bit too much, almost as if the reader was assumed to have no prior knowledge of the condition – which, I suppose, is quite likely seeing as it’s actually a young adult novel – and this didn’t do much for me. I would’ve much preferred deeper development of the characters and plot, rather than an information overload.
All in all, I didn’t mind ‘A Note of Madness’, but it definitely underwhelmed me. I’ve bought the sequel (‘A Voice in the Distance’) as well so no doubt I will read that soon. It does carry a “not suitable for younger readers” warning so fingers crossed it won’t be too triggering…
My overall rating? 6/10.