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The Independent Culture
Insanity by Anna Reynolds, Fourth Estate pounds 5.99.

When she is asked what she intends to call her baby, unhappy teenager Rosa Raine instantly replies: "Insanity". There are times when the title of Anna Reynolds' first novel seems just as melodramatically seized upon. True, Rosa's subsequent separation from her offspring brings much grief, suffering and strange behaviour into her world, and into that of the two London art students she turns to for succour. She even ends up in an asylum when she gives free rein to her child-snatching tendencies. But the bulk of the story is taken up with her toing and froing between the too-nice Patrick and the too-heartless Nick. "Incompatibility" would have been a more apt, if less sexy, pointer.

Reynolds clearly wishes to show the ordinariness of mental disorder, and the way in which it can be indistinguishable from obsessive love. But the love story never quite meshes with the trauma that is supposed to haunt it. The writing is melancholic, detached ("We can choose what we regret"), while the split narrative (hers and the authorial voice) beckons you towards an intensity that's always over the brow of the next hill.

What sustains interest is the sense of lurking autobiography. Reynolds was sent to a psychiatric hospital at the age of 18 after battering her mother to death, and has been writing - to considerable acclaim - since she came out. This story is one that doesn't quite look her own in the eye, but the pain can be heard in the quietest remarks. Rosa's estranged mother extends a belated branch of reconciliation: "We could have worked something out."