Tuesday, 26 March 2013
The Shock of the Fall
I'd heard great things about this title, so was excited to download it from NetGalley ahead of the UK publication date. I wouldn't quite call this a story; more a portrait of a very vulnerable young man. Following the childhood death of his brother, The Shock of the Fall is in parts the coming of age tale of Matthew, a teenage schizophrenic, but mainly a chronicle of his descent into mental illness.
Nathan Filer's style is no holds barred but also full of charm. Matt is charismatic and Filer's style is a masterful combination of coherent and chaotic. The latter captures Matt's desperate state of mind as he recounts his thoughts via the computer in his day centre, or at his typewriter in his lonely flat. The former is cleverly achieved to weave the tale of Matt's background into the narrative of someone battling mental illness.
This is very much a character-led piece. The reader inhabits Matt's world, seeing what he sees, including the schizophrenic visions of his deceased brother. Filer's approach is subtle and his experience in mental health nursing shines through to create a heart-renderingly beautiful portrait of an unwell mind. The scenes in which Simon, his brother, keeps appearing were particularly well done and moving. During Matt's 18th birthday, he describes how "everyone broke out in a loud chorus of Happy Birthday. Simon joined in too. He was in the flames. Of course he was in the flames. A nurse quickly grabbed hold of my wrist, leading me quickly to the cold tap. I had no idea what I had done, only that I had been trying to hold him".
In a society where mental illness remains something of a taboo and too often hysterical in its portrayal, Filer has provided a strong and sympathetic voice in Matthew. He creates sympathy and pathos for what he sees and feels, as his treatment makes him lose his brother all over again. You want nothing more than for him to get better, but this is a realistic portrayal of an illness that won't be simply cured.
So would The Shock of the Fall make a good rush hour read? I found it a very compelling book and a very honest account of grief, loss and mental illness. Its themes are more heavy ones, but despite this it's highly readable and impressive. In my view this is a brilliantly different and important piece of writing and a real privilege to read. It shows strong promise as a debut and I can't wait for more from this author!
(Released on the 23rd May 2013. Available for pre-order via Harper Collins or Amazon)