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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

'A Small Madness' by Dianne Touchell

Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

Rose didn't tell anyone about it. She wondered if it showed. She looked at herself in the mirror and turned this way and then that way. She stood as close to the mirror as she could, leaning over the bathroom basin, looking into her own eyes until they disappeared behind the fog of her breath. Looking for something. Some evidence that she was different now. Something had shifted inside her, a gear being ratcheted over a clunky cog, gaining torque, starting her up. But it didn't show. How could all of these feelings not show? She was a woman now but it didn't show and she couldn't tell anyone.

‘A Small Madness’ is the new contemporary young adult novel from Australian author Dianne Touchell, whose debut novel ‘Creepy & Maud’ was CBCA-shortlisted.

I’m sort of going to tell you what this book’s about. It’s not really clear from the blurb or cover … but I don’t know how to praise it without telling you a little bit.

Rose and Michael started dating, “almost by accident,” but when we first meet them they’re having sex for the first time because they’re in love and ready. Afterwards Rose can’t believe that nobody can tell how changed she is, now suddenly a woman. Michael wants to know when they can do it again.

And then Rose starts watching the calendar; “she was watching the calendar the way you watch a spider in the corner of a room you can’t leave. Each day that passed was a spider leg twitching …”

This is a book about Michael and Rose’s journey down a winding road they can’t seem to find their way back from. It’s about how one small madness leads to a mistake, then an accident and then something more monstrous.

When I received this book from the publisher, the press release included a few paragraphs from Dianne Touchell on her inspiration for ‘A Small Madness’. She said that while living in the United States a few years ago she was “moved and disturbed” by news coverage of a particularly awful discovery, and it had stayed with her ever since. Touchell said that while “society gathered their metaphoric torches and pitchforks,” for this couple who had done a very bad thing, her heart just broke for them. It was that news story that led to Touchell exploring similar themes in ‘A Small Madness’, particularly this idea that; “being damaged is very, very different to being evil.” 

I adore Touchell’s writing. I fell in love with ‘Creepy & Maud’, and ‘A Small Madness’ has gone and broken my heart again. It’s not an easy book because I don’t think Touchell has it in her to write an ‘easy’ book – it’s sad and bleak in parts, the characters read a bit like careening cars you know are going to crash but you can’t take your eyes off of … the writing is lyrical;

He recognised the madness within himself that Sunday. Recognised its little tap dance on his heart and on his tongue. But he couldn’t let it loose again.

And these characters, for all their bad deeds and mistakes, are portrayed so tenderly and with a fragility that almost belies their actions. But that’s the whole point of the book – it’s to stay with Michael and Rose from the beginning of their madness, following what leads to their actions … Touchell unravels them masterfully. The book is told in third-person, so on one page we at once get Rose’s mindset on their situation;

Rose was learning about viruses in Biology. Virus: a submicroscopic particle of a nucleic acid surrounded by protein that can only replicate within a host cell. They only function inside the cells of another living thing. A virus is a parasite. Viruses are not considered to be independent living things. And they can be flushed out.

… and then we’re also given insight into Michael’s similar hard place;

‘We should tell someone.’ Even as Michael said it he wasn’t sure he believed it. Telling someone else, anyone else, would be an extension of the shame and he was stretched to capacity as it was. 
His parents had always been there for him. They loved him. He didn’t doubt that. But isn’t love based on belief? And isn’t belief just expectations all dressed up for opening night? This was his last year of school; the opening night of the rest of his life was only months away. His mum and dad had bought and paid for their expectations. What happens when someone loses that? What happens when someone stops believing in you?

This is a book full of black, white and grey. Touchell asks readers to be sympathetic to a dark deed and the fallible characters who commit it – she asks that we examine this idea that “being damaged is very, very different to being evil.” Here is a deliciously disturbing book; dark, lyrical and with a sharp complexity that will push readers out of their comfort zone. Must read.



  1. I'm yet to read Creepy and Maud, but Touchell's books sound like exactly the sort of contemporary I like to read - challenging, but unflinchingly real. I will definitely be adding this to my to-read list. Great review Danielle!

    Michelle @ The Unfinished Bookshelf

    1. I loved 'Creepy & Maud' and I loved this too - she is a contemp author right up your alley then :)

  2. argh! this review is so good and absolutely compelling. i will def be checking this out when it is released. i am really wanting to read it now but not entirely sure it will be my thing, haha

    1. Released today, Feb 28 :)
      It's a tough one, but my gosh it's brilliant!

  3. Yep you've made me NEED to read this

  4. Oh my! Those quotes are... I don't know. But I can't wait to read this. I can tell it is going to be amazing but heartbreaking. I interviewed Dianne a little while back for a uni assignment and I totally agree with you that she doesn't have it in her to write an 'easy' book. Wonderful review, Danielle. I'm going to the book launch in a couple of weeks (yay for a Perth author!) and I can't wait to hear what she says about it.


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