It’s funny, really; the title for my novel, A Gothic Symphony, has been so long stuck in my head that I’ve never really considered if it’s the best title it could have. It’s nothing to do with music, actually; it’s a play on the Greek word ‘symphonia’, meaning ‘sounding together’. The story is essentially weaving together all these different viewpoints and threads into a single tapestry, a single outcome, and to me that fits the definition of ‘symphony’ rather well.
It often makes me think about other books, and the titles they might have had instead. How well-loved would First Impressions be, or Mistress Mary (Pride & Prejudice and The Secret Garden, respectively)? Is it possible there’s a better title out there for A Gothic Symphony, and I just haven’t realized it yet? As suitable as it seems to me, it nonetheless doesn’t have the same ring, the same catchiness to it, as something like Thirteen Reasons Why.
I bring this particular title up because, as I’ve written before, it shares some thematically similar elements to A Gothic Symphony. To the extent, in fact, that I’d be worried about it seeming a copycat novel. Never mind that I started writing A Gothic Symphony two years before Thirteen Reasons Why was published; its recent resurgence in popularity thanks to the Netflix series makes it now the de facto standard in dealing with teenage suicide.
Only … does it? I was discussing this with a friend recently—one to whom I’ve given a copy of A Gothic Symphony to for alpha-reading—and they made what felt like a valid point to me. Thirteen Reasons Why deals extensively with themes such as bullying, abuse and rape—all of which are absolutely contributing factors to someone’s decision to kill themselves—but it fails to address the underlying mental illnesses that are also present in the vast majority of suicide cases. At no point do we see Hannah suffering from depression, inflicting self-harm on herself, or any of the other symptoms that invariably precede a suicide attempt. (Not to mention Netflix’s appalling treatment of the suicide itself.)
And that’s where A Gothic Symphony is different. I started this story with the intention of portraying teenage depression, not teenage suicide. Are the two linked? Absolutely. But a discussion of the latter can’t come without a discussion of the former. And while my book includes some of the same elements such as bullying, drugs and abuse, they are in the wider context of a young girl with a debilitating mental illness.
I think that A Gothic Symphony (or whatever it ends up being called) will invariably be compared to Thirteen Reasons Why. However, I’m confident, having discussed the issue out loud now, that it isn’t treading the same water. In fact, I’d like to think it does a better job of dealing with mental illness, with suicide (and suicide ideation) as a consequence of that illness.