Book Review of the Novel Becoming Insane by Leyla Cardena

Becoming Insane is a thriller by Swiss author, Leyla Cardena. It is about two men, bonded since childhood by their imaginations and creativity, grappling with the reality that their artistic endeavors have not been fruitful. I love the concept of turning the inner turmoil of unfulfilled dreams into a surreal nightmare, but I wanted to see more of the everyday manifestations of that turmoil. Other than a few panic attacks, there wasn’t a lot to show us Jack’s anxiety. The synopsis of the book on Amazon says that Jack has “spiraling OCD”, but I never got the impression that Jack had OCD at all (and I say that as someone who’s been diagnosed with OCD). I felt that John’s depression could have been more aptly portrayed as well. As it was, I found it hard to accept that their level of distress was enough to lead to the places it did.

One thing that struck me were the main characters’ names: John Crane and Jack Vain. The name Jack is often used as a nickname for John, and the two surnames, Crane and Vain, rhyme. At first, I thought this was an unfortunate oversight on the author’s part, to have two characters with nearly the same first name, and last names that rhyme. As the story unfolded, however, I decided this may be intentional, to give the feeling that the two men were almost like one – feeding each other’s psychosis with their shared imaginations.

Overall, it’s a great story. It’s imaginative and the themes of mental illness and creativity are interesting, especially in how they relate to one another. But there are a lot of typos and awkward sentences within the text. Knowing that English is not the author’s native language makes me much more forgiving of occasional mistakes (ie: “they were things in it” where it should be “there were things in it”; and places where an “s” was left off a word that needed to be plural; etc.), and an awkward sentence here and there (ie: “Noticing that Dr. Ashley was now more interested in devouring her sandwich to the doctor and drinking beer.”), but there are a lot of them. There are also some inconsistencies (for example, on page seventy-three it says that John “remained paralyzed”, and then in the next line it says that he “quickly put his arm out”). There are places where the wrong word is used (in describing seeing something scary, she writes it “made his blood boil”, which means it made him angry, rather than scared). Again, some of this is to be expected with any author writing in a second (or third) language, and the story itself is as good as some Dean Koontz or Stephen King stories I’ve read.

The character of the psychiatrist was a bit hard for me to figure out. For instance, she said that she was fifty-years-old, “too old for a house and housework.” As a woman of fifty myself, who in no way thinks fifty is too old for a house or housework, I wasn’t sure if this was meant as a way to make the character seem absurd in her opinions, or if the author herself thinks fifty is too old to take care of a house. This uncertainty is somewhat puzzling. Are we to believe the doctor’s analysis or is her theory completely wrong? Is the title Becoming Insane misleading us? Or have they indeed become insane? By the end of the book I still wasn’t entirely sure, though I realize that may be the author’s goal – to leave us guessing.

The book’s cover is puzzling as well. It’s beautiful and professional, but I can’t help but be confused that it’s a picture of a woman when the two main characters are men. It looks like the author herself, which is a bit odd for a thriller (although if I looked like that I’d want my picture on the cover of my book, too).

All in all, I think Cardena is a talented storyteller with a rich imagination and much potential, however, her writing does suffer from a lack of solid editing and proofreading, and the reader’s enjoyment of her story will depend on how bothered they are by that.

Leyla Cardena is also the author of the French novel “Karmicalement Vôtre”. Becoming Insane is available at Amazon in ebook and paperback.