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Submitted Literature

The Madman’s Tale

By John Katzenbach


Intelligently written thriller novel set, in part, in psychiatric unit which houses an unknown murderer who kills a young nurse.  Narrated in reflective fragments by Francis, an inpatient at the time of the murder, it also documents his re-descent into psychosis. His re-telling of the story becomes an all-consuming obsession, leading to his descent back into the hallucinatory, tormented world he once inhabited. The novel contains some phenomenally well-written sections describing both what it is like and what it means to be mentally unwell with acute descriptions from the inside of tormenting symptoms.  Furthermore, the text questions where the boundaries of sanity, badness and madness lie.

Key Themes:

  • Creativity and Madness
  • Isolation
  • Psychosis
  • Revealing Reads
  • Violence

Significant Quotes / Pages

80 – “But madness is also truly about the worst sorts of loneliness, and I was both mad and alone, and so when Peter the Fireman took me aside, I welcomed his friendship along the descending road into the world of the Western State Hospital […] my younger sister questioned me once, long after I was released, what was the worst aspect of the hospital, and after much consideration, I told her: the routine.  The hospital existed as a system of small disjointed moment that amounted to nothing, but were established merely to get Monday to Tuesday, and Tuesday to Wednesday and so on, week after week, month after month.  Everyone at the hospital had been committed by allegedly well-meaning relatives, or the cold and inefficient social services system, after a perfunctory judicial hearing where we offer weren't present, under 30-or 60-day orders.  But we learned quick enough that these phoney deadlines were as much delusions as were the voices we heard, for the hospital could renew the court orders as long as a determination was made that you continued to be a threat to yourself or to others, and which, in mad states, seemingly was always the determination.

and barred windows and locks on the doors, surrounded by other crazy people, or even stuffed into an isolation cell all alone, but that really wasn't the room one within a tall.  The real room that one occupied was constructive by memory, by relationships, by events, by all sorts of the unseen forces.  Sometimes delusions.  Sometimes hallucinations.  Sometimes desires.  Sometimes dreams and hopes, or ambition.  Sometimes anger.  That was what was important: to always recognize where the real walls were.”


238 – “Sometimes the lines of demarcation between dreams and reality become blurred.  Hard for me to tell precisely which is which.  I suppose that's why I'm supposed to take so much medication, as if reality can be encouraged chemically.  Ingest enough milligrams of this or that appeal, and the world comes back into focus.  This is sadly true, and, after the most part, all those drugs do pretty much what they are supposed to do, in addition to all the other things not so pleasant.  And, I guess, it is all in all positive.  It just depends on how much value won places on focus.

Currently, I wasn't placing much value on it all.

I slept, I don't know how many hours, on the floor of my living room.  I had taken a pillow and blanket from my bed, and then stretched out beside all my words, reluctant to leave them, almost like an attentive parents, afraid to leave a sickly child at night. […]

The Angel was not far, I knew.  He had not fled.  That wasn't his style.  Nor had he concealed himself behind my shoulder again.  My senses were all on edge, despite the few hours sleep. He was close.  He was watching.  He was waiting.  Somewhere nearby.  But the room was is empty, at least for the time being, and I felt some relief.  The only echoes were my own.

Reference: John, Katzenbach. 2004. The Madman’s Tale. London: Corgi, 2005


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 20th March 2009