I have a strange habit of ignoring books that are top of bestseller lists and getting lots of attention until the furore has died down. It is then I am more likely to pick them up. I suspect I was probably doing the same with The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. I knew about it, but had largely ignored it. However, when it came to me via my mum I became interested. My mum and I usually share a fairly similar taste in books so when she says something is worth reading I tend to listen. I’m glad I took heed on this occasion, because I wouldn’t want to have missed out on this quirky, if somewhat melancholy read.
Sometimes you pick up a book and from the first page know this is going to be a book for you. This is one of those books. I was hooked from the first sentence.
“I should say that I am not a nice person. Sometimes I try to be, but often I’m not. So when it was my turn to cover my eyes and count to a hundred – I cheated.”
Matthew is 18, he is schizophrenic, he has been sectioned, and for his own protection is living in a faceless mental health institution. This book is his attempt to tell his story and make sense of the events of his life so far. Matthew had a younger brother called Simon. We know early on that Simon has died because Matthew tells us.
“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”
It is this honesty which drew me in. This book literally is Matthew’s book. It is his story as written on the typewriter given to him by his adorable Nannynoo. The fonts throughout the book change and it is littered with Matt’s scribbles and drawings. He addresses the reader personally throughout and I suspect it is this technique which endures Matthew and his madness to us.
As the dead Simon becomes more and more alive to Matthew the book takes on something of the macabre. Matthews behavior becomes more and more erratic and tension and fear build as Matthews own life seems to be hanging in the balance. Despite all this there is humor and there are laughs to be had without having to dig too deep to find them.
This book has an authenticity to it which I suspect is largely due to the authors work as a mental health nurse. The scenes with health professionals, the workings of mental health services, and the inner turmoil Matthew lives feels believable and true. I have already mentioned the gorgeous Nannynoo, a constant source of love and support to Matthew. His parents are also beautifully drawn characters who it would be impossible not to feel some sympathy for, as they deal with the absolute loss of their youngest son to death and the complex loss of their older son to his troubled mind. The love they have for Matthew is deeply touching. No where is this more obvious than on his 18th birthday which he “celebrates” in a mental health institution. They bring cake and buy fish and chips for everyone and above all show Matthew the depth of love that only a parent can towards their child.
As I said at the beginning there is a melancholy to this book. Having finished it a few days ago and reflected on it I’m not sure it left me feeling overly hopeful; but the story is so sensitively and realistically told it becomes irresistible.