What’s it all about?:
‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’
There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.
There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.
There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.
The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.
The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.
What did I think?:
I picked up this book at the Hay Festival last year, immediately attracted by its beautiful cover art and intriguing premise. I’ve only just got round to reading it now as part of my “Real Book” month in August, but it was definitely worth the wait. The story is voiced by Matthew Homes, who at 19 years old has been formally diagnosed with schizophrenia although his problems seem to stem from childhood, when he lost his older brother Simon who also had special needs in a terrible accident that Matthew feels to blame for. As a child when Simon was still alive, Matthew felt like his own needs were pushed to the background, as a lot of attention was focused on his brother, and understandably felt slightly resentful as a result. Now Simon is dead, once again Matthew’s needs are not being met as his mother sinks into depression whilst being fiercely over-protective of the son that remains and his father seems vacant and unreachable.
The book chops and changes much like Matthew’s state of mind between the days immediately before the accident and the events afterwards. At one time, Matthew manages to live independently, renting a flat with a friend for a short period. Following that, he lives there alone checked up on by his ever faithful Nanny Noo, a stable person in his life that brings him shopping and keeps an eye on him as well as treating him like a “normal” person. However his mental state begins to deteriorate to such a point that he won’t even answer the door to her, is missing appointments and is not taking his medication. The mental health authorities become increasingly concerned and he is institutionalised for his own safety. Many of his hallucinations and other manifestations of his condition involve his brother Simon and it is obvious that he still has a lot of unresolved issues and guilt about his brother’s death. Realising this, Nanny Noo buys him a typewriter and it is a wonderful tool for Matthew to use to get his feelings down on paper, no matter how rambling and incoherent they might be, as the reader sees his illness progress.
Another way in which this book was so special was the variety of font used which really made certain things pop out to me as the reader. Also, the illustrations and little diagrams (like the Homes family genogram) were a beautiful and unique way of telling the story. Nathan Filer has a background of working in the mental health profession and his knowledge of schizophrenia and the ins and outs of the profession in general makes this novel slightly bitter-sweet but infinitely readable. I actually cannot believe this was his debut novel and it truly deserves the distinction that comes with the Costa Novel of the Year prize. I’m looking forward to what he comes out with next and this time, I definitely won’t wait as long to read it.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):