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BOOK REVIEW: A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell

| 28 January 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell

Allen & Unwin
January 2015
Paperback, $16.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell


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.


Rose and Michael are in love. They’ve been dating for ages, and they’re in the final year of high-school. He’s going to be a doctor, she’s going to be an actress, and they already know they’re going to get married.

Rose had been pretending to be someone else the day that Michael decided he loved her. She was in the middle of dress rehearsal for the school play, standing on the stage in the school gym, her voice ricocheting off the polished boards with an intensity that set his bones ringing like a tuning fork.

Which is why, despite their religious beliefs, they start having sex. They’re going to spend their lives together anyway, so why wait?

He’d eaten an orange. His fingers were sticky with it and smelled strongly of that pith-muck that collects under your fingernails after peeling the rind off. She didn’t care – they were in love. She let him put his sticky hands in places her own had never been.

The first two times they don’t use a condom because they get caught up in the moment and forget, but they’re careful after that. And it’s not like either of them has been with anyone else before, so they’re safe from diseases.

But then Rose realises she’s been waiting for her period, waiting for months, and when it doesn’t come, she knows what it must mean. The pregnancy test confirms her suspicion. But she can’t be pregnant, it’ll ruin all her plans. She’s got year 12 exams to pass.

‘I have plans, too,’ Rose reiterated. ‘I have a future.’
And Liv said, ‘Not anymore.’

Thus begins the tale of one girl’s unplanned pregnancy and her descent into unhealthy denial, and a kind of madness.


A Small Madness is an engrossing book, and the reader will find themselves unable to look away, even as the circumstances contained within make them increasingly more and more uncomfortable.

Certain lines in this story are weird, intriguing, and poetic, but the majority is written in detached, emotionless third person, and jumps point of view characters paragraph by paragraph without any kind of break, at times giving the reader whiplash.

In terms of originality of story and ability to look unflinchingly at the real world squickiness we often only hear about in passing, this story would be an eight or higher, but it’s the style of writing that brings the rating down for me. While it was easy to get lost in the story, chapter after chapter disappearing, changing point of view so often is something that doesn’t sit entirely well with this editor and avid reader.


This is a read that will take hold of you without your realising. It’s a read that will keep you up late into the night, and will have you rushing back to read “just one more chapter” on your lunch break, but it is certainly not a read for the faint of heart. 


Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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