Told from the first person narrative stance of Jake a thirty something man whose life is defined by his bipolar disorder (that’s manic depression in old money), this novel at first seems a fairly ‘light’ and familiar love triangle story. But it lulls you into a false sense of security. Largely told through dialogue the story develops and retains an immediacy which is sometimes extreme, sometimes exhausting and sometimes just plain moving.
Through Jake’s narrative stance we get into the guts of the extreme moods and mindsets of depression and mania. The strength of the writing is that we see both of these states clearly and distinctly. When Jake is ‘depressed’ the prose is lifeless and dull (not in a bad way) and one feels the boredom and lack of engagement with the world around him. The onset of paranoia and the fact that he is riddled with guilt and self-loathing is quite palpable and at times ‘depressing’ in the commonly understood parlance of the word.
When Jake is manic the prose is exhausting as we race with him through his burgeoning creativity, forging hyper-connections with the world around him and revealing the mismatch of pacing between his inner self and the world around him. It seems that in his mania he comes most truly ‘alive’ but there is no internal self regulating mechanism which allows him to set a boundary of emotion. He is torn, turn and turn about, between emotional extremes and the strength of the novel is that the reader is pulled along with him on his journey.
Such a life is truly exhausting. And of course it’s possible to ‘contain’ the extremes through medication. Jake has repeated stays in hospital and struggles through the entire novel to ‘balance’ his life and the drugs. This novel is a very good explanation of why people with bipolar might decide to reduce and ‘give up’ their medication. The ‘reasoning’ behind the decisions and the staged ‘withdrawal’ and its consequences from within the mind are fascinating and compelling.
Jake believes that his creativity is impaired by the ‘meds.’ He believes he works better when he’s not on the medication and that fundamentally the drugs he takes work to bring him not just in line with the rest of the world’s vision of ‘normality’ but to remove something of his individual spirit and core personality. He believes his painting is better without the drugs. Some other characters disagree, but some agree with him. His paintings are unique expressions and at times cannot be understood by everyone – especially those without personal experience of, for example, depression or mania. But drugs don’t provide all the answers. This novel shows that Jake is not the only messed up person in the world and that love and friendship are at least as important as drugs and ‘managing’ of conditions.
Through the novel we witness, first hand, Jake hurtling through manic episodes, featuring promiscuity, risky behaviour, wild spending and the feeling of being super human. We know he will ‘crash and burn.’ He knows it too, but sometimes, sometimes he just doesn’t care. He has to be his creative self. And all too soon he’s reduced again to the guilt ridden, paranoid and depressed person who cannot see the point of existence. It’s impossible to think that one state is ‘better’ than the other and to have to contend with both of these states as a regular part of one’s personality must be absolutely devastating. The novel doesn’t presume at answers, it’s just showing and telling in its purest form.
The other characters in the novel, both those termed ‘normal’ and those ‘afflicted’ by mental ill health all have their own demons to battle. Everyone is touched by trauma of one kind or another and this trauma leads to mental battles. There are no quick fix solutions in this poignant story but it allows the reader to gain insight into the mind of someone who might otherwise be dismissed as ‘ill’ and considered ‘scary’. There is vulnerability in spades here and it’s Jake who is the most vulnerable character of all. That’s worth remembering. And drugs don’t treat vulnerability. This is a brave story. Bravely told.
You can buy the ebook of Alexa’s Song from Amazon
Find out more about Rosalie Warren