Posts Tagged ‘British YA Fiction’

After reading Tabitha Suzuma’s ‘A Note of Madness’ I couldn’t resist reading the sequel ‘A Voice in the Distance’. I read a few pages a couple of days back and yesterday I finished the whole book. It is not often that I read a whole book in a day. Here is what I think.


‘A Voice in the Distance’ continues the story of ‘A Note of Madness’. Flynn, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, manages to stay normal by medication and periodic medical checkups. Jennah and Flynn now live together and are very much in love. Flynn wins music competitions and he is a star even before he has passed out of music college. Then one day the medication stops working as well as before. Flynn gets into a manic depressive state. He tries to commit suicide. He is taken to hospital. The doctor increases the dosage of lithium. Flynn discovers that it makes his hands shiver, which means that he can’t play the piano as well as before. Then one day Flynn decides not to take the medication. It improves his piano playing. But he starts getting hyperactive as before. And then Jennah discovers what Flynn has done and she feels betrayed and all hell breaks loose. Will Flynn be able to manage his condition without taking medication? Will he be able to salvage his relationship with Jennah? Will Jennah continue to be together with Flynn inspite of the everyday difficulties and complexities that come with it? The answers to all these questions form the rest of the story.


‘A Voice in the Distance’ is a bit different from ‘A Note of Madness’. The first thing that is different is that it is told through the voices of Flynn and Jennah. The chapters which contain Jennah’s narration are longer than those that contain Flynn’s. Jennah gets a bigger share of the story. The second thing that is different is that while ‘A Note of Madness’ was more about depression, ‘A Voice in the Distance’ is more about how the family and friends and loved ones of a person suffering from depression cope with the situation. We see how Jennah handles the situation and how she has to make difficult choices. We also see the situation from the point of view of Flynn’s parents, his brother and sister-in-law, his friends Harry and Kate and Jennah’s mother.


The third thing in which ‘A Voice in the Distance’ is different from its predecessor is with respect to the ending. The ending is sad, even heartbreaking. But it is also satisfying. I know that is a contradiction in terms, but it is true. It is classic Suzuma. In contrast, ‘A Note of Madness’ had a happy ending.


I don’t know whether there will be a third volume in the series. I would love to know what happened to Flynn and Jennah after the events described in ‘A Voice in the Distance’. The last passage of the book continues to haunt me, and as a reader I should leave it at that, but I can’t resist the temptation to find out what happened next.


I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.


They say depression is an incredible sadness, an unbearable mental pain. No, it doesn’t have to be so dramatic. Sometimes it is nothing more than feeling tired. Tired of life. In therapy they tell you to remember that the bad spells pass. That things do get better, that medication does work, that things don’t stay the same. I can’t see how this is supposed to help. Ultimately everything ends with death. What they should say is : things might get better for a while, but eventually you will go back to being nothing, and all the pain and suffering will have been in vain. I wonder what Dr.Stefan would have to say to that. They say that depression makes you see everything in a negative light. I disagree. It makes you see things for what they are. It makes you take off the fucking rose-tinted glasses and look around and see the world as it really is – cruel, harsh and unfair. It makes you see people in their true colours – stupid, shallow and self-absorbed. All that ridiculous optimism, all that carpe diem and life’s-what-you-make-of-it. Words, just empty words in an attempt to give meaning to an existence that is both doomed and futile.


His face is like a waxwork, and I realize suddenly with startling clarity that the body and the person are two different things. Two different entities, somehow fused. The body is the one I am looking at now, attached to all these machines, the heart still struggling to pump, the lungs still struggling to breathe, valiantly fighting to stay alive. The person is another being entirely, the perpetrator of this crime, the one who ruthlessly swallowed forty tablets sometime in the middle of the night, then lay down beside his girlfriend to die. The person tried to kill itself, tried to kill its own body. I understand for the first time why attempted suicide used to be an imprisonable offence. It is, after all, attempted murder.


Have you read ‘A Voice in the Distance’? What do you think about it?

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I read Tabitha Suzuma’s ‘Forbidden’ last year. I liked it so much that I wanted to explore other works of hers. Whenever I discover a new writer and like one of her/his works, I try to read the first book of that writer. So I thought I will get Tabitha Suzuma’s first book, ‘A Note of Madness’. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.


‘A Note of Madness’ is about a classical music student, Flynn. Flynn discovers one day that his emotional state moves to sudden extremes. One day he feels very energetic. He goes for a midnight run. He doesn’t sleep for the next few days and tries to compose an opera. Then suddenly the bubble bursts and he doesn’t want to even get out of home. He doesn’t want to attend classes and he doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He feels depressed all the time. Flynn’s best friends are Harry and Jennah. Flynn loves Jennah, secretly. But he is scared that Jennah won’t love him back the same way and so doesn’t reveal his true feelings to her. Jennah loves Flynn. But she waits for him to make the first move. Flynn’s episodes of high energy and high depression continue for a while and one day, on the eve of an important recital, things become too much and he tries to jump out of the window. Flynn’s brother Rami, who is a doctor, takes him to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnoses Flynn with bipolar disorder and prescribes lithium to him. Flynn starts taking medication but discovers that the medicine deadens his mind – he doesn’t feel depressed but he doesn’t feel excited too. It looks like he is incapable of both agony and ecstasy and the medicine has eliminated both the lows and highs of life. He feels dull all the time and after attending classes he prefers sitting at home and watching TV. One day he stops taking lithium. Sometime after that Jennah tries expressing her love to Flynn, but he pushes her away without meaning too. And things get worse from there. Does Flynn get cured of his bipolar disorder or does he learn how to manage it? Does his music career get back on track? Is he able to convey his true feelings to Jennah and does she accept him? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.


‘A Note of Madness’ is a study in depression. It shows what happens when a talented young person suddenly faces the onslaught of manic depression and how his life changes irrevocably. It is one of the most realistic stories on depression that I have read. The main character in the story, Flynn, reminded me of the character Leonard in Jeffrey Eugenides’ ‘The Marriage Plot’. However, I found the portrayal of Flynn more convincing and real. After reading the story, I also discovered the difference between clinical depression and manic depression. One of my favourite passages which describes how Flynn thinks about the situation he is in, is this :


I feel as if someone close to me has died, or as if I’ve suffered some terrible loss. Yet nothing bad has happened and there is no reason for me to feel this way. A few days ago I believed I could write an opera, I was a musical genius and playing was effortless fun. I loved my friends, I loved my life. But now, just existing is pure agony and all I want is escape. Escape from this world, escape from this life, escape from myself.


Another of my favourite passages is this :


Go Rami, he silently implored him. You can’t help me, nobody can. You’ll never understand. You have no idea what it is like to be inside my body, my brain, my mind! Trying to describe my life and feelings to you is like trying to describe colours to the blind, or music to the deaf. It’s simply not possible. We may exist side by side, we may share the same blood, the same upbringing, but our minds exist in different worlds. You exist in the world of the rational, the world where every problem has a logical solution, every question 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 common sense, none of my pain can be shared by your structured emotions? In my world black is white, one and one never makes two and agony and ecstasy lie irrevocably intertwined. The only way to understand it is to share it and I would never wish this existence upon anybody, not even my worst enemy. You may try and sympathize, help and care with all your soul, but you will never, never understand.


There are many beautiful passages on music in the book. My favourite music passage is this:


The piece was made up of drops of icy water melting from an overhanging tree. Each simple note caused a stab of bittersweet pain as it fell against his skin like a pebble into still water, sending shivers down his spine. Flynn felt as if he could taste each note, feel it inside him, and as the late-afternoon sunlight slanted over Professor Kaiser’s dusty study, it was almost too much to bear. He came to the end of the piece and immediately wanted to play it again, to experience again the intense sensations created by nothing more than a simple arrangement of notes, longing for the piece once more like fresh juice on a hot summer’s day. Each note was more poignant than the last, more exquisite, until you didn’t feel as if another could surpass it and then one did and it was utterly overwhelming, so much so that your chest ached and your eyes stung and your whole body felt as if it would burst.


I also liked the character of Jennah in the story. I wish her character was explored in more depth and the story of her and Flynn’s love for each other was given more space. But the book is more about depression and so the love story is just a subplot in it. I was however pleasantly surprised when I discovered that this book has a sequel ‘A Voice in the Distance’ which gives more importance to the character of Jennah. I can’t wait to read that.


I liked ‘A Note of Madness’ very much. It is a study of depression, of love, of fear, of brilliance. It is beautiful, brilliant, and scary. I can’t wait to read its sequel ‘A Voice in the Distance’ to find out what happened to Flynn and Jennah.


Have you read ‘A Note of Madness’? What do you think about it?

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