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Andrew D Wright "Andrew W." (UK)
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An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
by Chris Hadfield
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

5.0 out of 5 stars Space travel from the inside out. Your jaw with drop. Awesome book., 17 May 2015
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth - Chris Hadfield (Macmillan)

What are astronauts like? Of Buzz Lightyear chin and alpha-male constitution, full of macho horse-s*** & over-confidence? Some possibly, but certainly not Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian in space and possibly the first Buddhist too (his approach to life is Buddhist, even if his beliefs aren't.) Through the vehicle of Soyuz, the space shuttle and the International Space Station Colonel Chris (although he's too self-effacing ever to give himself that title in the book) takes on a fascinating guide to the experience of space. What we learn is jaw-dropping and in places, quite intimate, for example did you know that 25% of an astronaut's urinations are collected as samples to be analysed back on Earth? The process of collecting urine in a weightless environment is quite mind-boggling.

What we learn about life of Earth is simple. Anything important, complex or meaningful takes time. As in space, so on Earth. What we learn about space exploration is how many fail-safes and sims astronauts go through as they work through every possible scenario and routine pre-flight. A mantra they work with is; Okay, So What Might Kill Me Next, exploring every process with thorough negative thinking to ensure they've analysed every possible risk factor. An astronaut's day is choreographed to the minute and much of it is very mundane. Lever B needs pressing, Tool X needs racking, visor helmet needs careful polishing and cleaning, toileting now, toothbrushing soon, remembering to swallow the paste as in weightless it just wobbles about 'til it splats against the wall or a fellow astronaut.

There's a gorgeous playfulness to Chris's approach to life in space, even amongst the grandeur and danger the astronauts down-time spent racing each other the length of compartments in the IS to see who is quickest. And here Chris draws an analogy with our everyday earth-bound lives, reminding us that we live amongst wonder, as they did amongst the stars, it just depends on where we choose to focus our attention. We must focus on the now, on our present experience, where all joy, engagement and wonder flow from.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth presents us with an amazing insight in life in space and the mind-sets of the people who work up there or have the temerity to design ships and machines that get people up there. Space exploration isn't a luxury or an indulgence, Hadfield argues, but a necessary engine in our quest to challenge ourselves and our engineers and scientists. The work they do up there has practical implications everyday, from the satellites we use for communication, to the understanding of weather and cosmic rays.

Incredible book. Follow Chris on Twitter and visit his website for more, what a thoroughly decent, self-effacing and inspiring human being.

***** Five Stars

The 5th Wave (Book 1)
The 5th Wave (Book 1)
by Rick Yancey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Science fiction with the dirt & blood left on. Great stuff., 16 May 2015
This review is from: The 5th Wave (Book 1) (Paperback)
The 5th Wave - Ricky Yancey (published by Penguin)

Watch out here comes the next BIG THING. Think Independence Day, The Stand, The Day After Tomorrow and Hunger Games. Think slick story-telling that makes reading is effortless. Think intense first person narrative, great action sequences and a very believable end of the world. Dystopia just grew up, got covered in dirt and blood and came to kick our arses.

This is how the book starts, with Hawking's quote. And then the aliens let rip, four waves of destructive annihilation aimed at ridding the planet of the seething cockroach of humanity. No spoilers here, but Yancey's aliens are quite special, nicely believeable and different enough from what's gone before to be a refreshing change. Our protagonists are Cassi, Zombie (a foot solider in the human fight-back) and Evan Walker, mystery hunk whose motives keep us guessing 'til the end.

Yancey has done a great job, this is science fiction with the dirt left on, a cultural bomb that is about to go off in the Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight type way. The film rights were snapped up early and the film is already in production and the second book, Infinite Sea, is already out.

If you liked Patrick Ness's More Than This or Chaos Walking trilogy you will love this. I loved it, such an excellently told story and the obligatory scene* when it came was so beautifully trailed I had a smile on my face as it was delivered.

Cassi is sassy, kick-arse, like Sarah Connor with a great emotional range. All the elements are here and they are brought together with panache and assurance and in the manner of all good stories we gobble words like we're hungry, that need to know driving us right into the final sentence.

Watch this space, the 5th Wave is about to detonate in the culture big time, a story experience that puts many adult thrillers to shame. Proof again that stories for young people are so of the most exciting, innovative and well-told on the planet and books for adults are having to run to keep up.

Read it. Read it now.

Five stars *****

*Obligatory scene - In a well-constructed story the audience is held in expectation of what is called an obligatory scene brought about by a reversal (or indeed, a series of reversals). Note that the obligatory scene, usually the denouement of a story, classically expresses the theme. It is an expression of the story’s central moral, the point expressed as a generalisation as seen in character-in-action. (A good way of defining this moment, in fact many moments in a dramatic narrative, is to ask: ‘Who does what with which to whom and why?’)

Alice and the Fly
Alice and the Fly
by James Rice
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.94

5.0 out of 5 stars Madness. From the inside., 10 May 2015
This review is from: Alice and the Fly (Hardcover)
Alice And The Fly - James Rice (Hodder and Stoughton 2015)
This is good. Very good indeed.

Intense first person narrative, an inner eye view on a collapse to madness that's beautifully done. Comparisons with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Shock of the Fall have already been made. I listened to this on audio-book and the regional accent of the voice actor meant it was like being there. Gritty, northern, realistic, I could almost see the headlights of the commuter traffic spangling as Greg sat on the bus travelling to school.

Like all truly great writing this story does three things very well. There's the strength of the character's voice, the precision and detail with which his troubled inner world is evoked, and there's mystery. What lifts this story experience somewhere else is the quiet, forensic beauty of the metaphors, poetry masked as prose.

Greg isn't well. Greg isn't well at all. He suffers voices, visions and mental glitches, powerful phobias that mean his inner world and outer experience meld in weird, phantasmagoric ways. In a fugue of confusion and distress his commits a terrible crime, or that at least is how the world sees it, the cleverness of this story is from the inside we see what happens from a very different place. Like all great fiction we are forced to empathize with someone, see it their way, widening our understanding and deepening our compassion.

A brilliant book, we enter the cathedral like space of Greg's madness, a giddy space, filled with sound and paranoia and weird linkages and obsessions. These echo and eddy round, faster, faster, wilder, wilder until the inner world and outer overlay in a way that means he cannot determine between them. Greg is mad, a beautiful, benighted madness which, like all inner collapse, has at its centre a desperate desire to make sense of the senseless and survive. And alongside Greg's collapse, we see his family implode, moving from dealing badly with his condition to not dealing with his condition to culpability in the awful thing that happens.

Clever stuff. Well done James Rice, hats off to you Sir, a powerful and haunting debut. A book you might find yourself reading in one sitting.

***** Five Stars

The Buried Giant
The Buried Giant
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Duller than a bran sandwich., 9 May 2015
This review is from: The Buried Giant (Hardcover)
The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro (Canongate Books)
Oh dear.

Message for Kazuo: (If by some terrible accident in this hyperlinked world you end up reading this stop now. You are a great writer and story-teller, just not - in this humble reader's opinion - with this book.)

Is this some great literary in-joke I am too unsophisticated to get? What? We have Pythonesque pre-Saxon peasants and Knights of Yore who speak and in funny ways. Hey? Is Kazuo having a joke with us? Is the The Buried Giant himself, a master story-teller buried in the absurd and inane story? In Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go Kazuo signature style works so well, he uses precise formal language to describe beautifully his first person narrator's predicament and reflections. Here, buried under a tawdry story that tries to be an epic fable and ends up just plain dull, that same precision and formality makes it seem that Parker, Lady Penelope's Butler from Thunderbirds, goes on a Grail quest.

Axl and Beatrice, two elderly peasants, quest through pre-Saxon England where myths and legends (there are pixies, giants and dragons) still abound. But this isn't fantasy, this is Ishiguro's nod to Arthurian legend, to the great stories of pre-literate societies (Beowulf and the like), where stories spread by word of mouth creatures changing every telling.

Imagine if you will Lords of the Rings without Orcs, battles, wizards or any form of action told in the tones of Stevens the butler from Remains of the Day. Axl and Beatrice have somehow had elocution lessons in Pre-Saxon England and Axl, dear, ponderous, ultra-polite Axl, incessantly refers to Beatrice as Princess. Not a Ray Winstone, "Princess," but a rather patronising, misogynistic, "Princess," like she is delicate and might break any minute. In fact he does it so much I am surprised Beatrice has managed to stay with him so long. The narrative voice, the story and the things that happen are part allegory and part fable and totally boring. As our polite Butler strides through the green bosom of rural England in search of his lost son various uninteresting things occur, all of them described in polite, formal language which makes you suspect that very soon you are going to be offered some afternoon tea or have the rules of cricket explained.

If you love Kazuo's other books I urge you NOT to read this one. He's a superb writer, he just lost his way here and no-one stopped him (although his wife does seem to have tried a few times). Perhaps it is a deeply personal novel for him, maybe it touches on relationships in his own life, perhaps he did it for a bet. This novel does have the dubious honour of having the most boring fictional dragon ever. A poor old knackered creature wheezing its last. It would not have seen the light of day (the novel, not the dragon) if Kazuo didn't usually tell such superb stories.

Duller than a bran sandwich.

* One Star.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 10, 2015 2:48 PM BST

Station Eleven
Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The end of the world has never been so beautiful., 4 May 2015
This review is from: Station Eleven (Paperback)
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (Picador)

The end of the world is beautiful. Dystopia as a genre is probably about to fizzle I suspect, having been over-exposed to death courtesy of Hunger Games and World War Z, but if it does, Emily St John Mandel's beautiful prose-poem of a novel is a shining star on which to fade. Plague comes, flu actually, Georgian flu, so virulent it makes the Captain Trips strain in Stephen King's The Stand look like a runny nose. Civilisation is snuffed out in a matter of weeks and into the broken, fragmentary lives that remain, amongst the handful of survivors, a new kind of mutated normal develops. Here we have Kirsten, child actor at the time of the pandemic strikes, now twenty years later muddling along as part of a band of players making a living performing Shakespeare to the settlements that have coalesced against the hardened inster-state veins of the old USA. Now Jeevan, ex-paparazzi and entertainment reporter, escaping out of a frozen and desolated Toronto and travelling south.

Via flash-forwards and flash-blacks through this staccato narrative we begin to piece together the shards and fragments of the tales of those who survived and those that didn't. And slowly, like the fictional equivalent of a crescendo, the elegiac quality of this dead, cold world begins to develop a kind of majestic beauty. Amongst the rusted hulks of civilisation, we get a sense that curiously, ridiculously, life goes on. Yes dressed in woe and sadness, broken and limping, but it shuffles ever onward. Memory is painful, so painful many people don't go there. There is the random, capricious violence of the uncivilised world, new apocalyptic religious cults springing up with messianic mad-men. But alongside the whimsical terror, there's also beauty and silence and the possibility of living not just surviving. One of the most powerful elements of that rising crescendo is the Museum of Civilisation, curated by a stranded air passenger at a two-bit way-station of an airport somewhere deep in the hinterland of America. It starts with some iPhones and credit cards laid out under the glass of the cafeteria and spreads and spreads, gathering dust, but being tended by our woebegotten curator. People start visiting as they pass through, leaving payment for the privilege and amongst the abandoned planes and decrepitude of our former lives something like beauty is nurtured.

Station Eleven is a motif, a mythical place derived from the scratchings of the wife of a movie star, a graphic novel about a band of travellers getting stranded on a space station. Station Eleven is their safety in the dark and it becomes a metaphor for the entire ensemble cast, Station Eleven no longer fictional, but what remains, the place left over where people survive. Station Eleven show clearly our humanity and our violence and the tenuous nature of what we think of as normal. And it reflects darkly back at us our conceit that the human trajectory is only ever up. Progress is a myth, Station Eleven whispers, we're still animals underneath, animals that believed we were something grander.

It will, no doubt, at some point end this way for this human world. As the crusty, dust of the pyramids, one day other civilisations will roam through the wrecks of our world and marvel at our grandiose stupidity. A brilliant read, beautiful, compelling a book that resonates with you long after you close the covers, and like Kirsten's troop of travelling players, move on with your own very fragile kind of normality.

***** Five stars

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't be put off by the hype this is really good., 2 May 2015
This review is from: The Girl on the Train (Hardcover)
The Girl on The Train - Paula Hawkins (Published by Doubleday 2015)

Good stuff, pacy first person narrative told from three perspectives. Much hyped and acclaimed, it does deliver a great story in character. Three characters actually, Rachel, Anna and Megan. The story unfolds beautifully in a tightly written, real-time way. Modern fiction is so very good at this, taking us places and dumping us into a hyper-real world, almost filmic in its touchability and verisimilitude. Reality bites here, and to the constant rattle, screech and rock of the ever present trains, we enter frozen, broken lives. This is a thriller yes, this is popular yes, but don't get sneery, this is superbly well written and envisaged.

Just like Gone Girl we have unreliable narrators, people who tell it with guile or amnesia or both. Rachel is frozen-hearted, having been dumped by her husband for a better model two years before she has fallen in alcoholism and despair. The interleaving of narratives works well, each with its own intrigue and enough question marks to keep us guessing to the end. I consumed this on Audiobook in a week and I would heartily recommend it, character voices strong, the sense of desolation and brokenness of two the female characters particularly well drawn. Women are the stars of this book and the men, virtually to a man, are the bastards. But who it? Who killed her? Who attacked Rachel? What really did happen in that underpass?

Great stuff. Well done Paula, brilliant job.

***** Five Stars

Elizabeth is Missing
Elizabeth is Missing
by Emma Healey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars A master class in first person narrative., 31 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Elizabeth is Missing (Paperback)
Eilzabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey (Viking 2014)

This is a very lovely book. It is also a very clever book, part detective, part exploration of the diminution of the self that is senility. Maud is our protagonist and we spend the entire narrative in her kindly, if very murky head. This is a first person narrative where the first person is forgetting herself, only jerking awake in the now sporadically, where she's increasingly confused. Maud has a friend, Elizabeth, and it won't be spoiling this gently unfurling plot to inform you that Elizabeth is missing. In fact, this drum beat; "Elizabeth is missing, Elizabeth is missing..." becomes a mantra for our very confused narrator, the capital letter that brings her back again and again to a deep sense of anxiety and urgency that is her call to action.

As the story unfurls we experience the episodic pattern of Maud's mental deterioration. The rendering of senility from the inside out is incredibly well done. Maud spends much of her waking day living in the past. A past where a hugely traumatic event, in the period just after the second world war, devastated her life. And it is the panic and horror of this event,
bubbling up through her memories again and again that becomes attached to events in the now. Elizabeth is missing, but not in the way we suspect, but it is her missing that triggers a spiral inside Maud's mind to delve into that past trauma. And the narrative bifurcates, we spend time in the past, where things are clear and solid, and time in the present where things are blurry and confusing. The horror of that past trauma seeps through into the now, delicately and confusingly, create a layered version of the present where every little thing acts as an association which spirals her thinking off into deep, almost dream-like recollections of what once happened. Neither Maud or us (the vicarious viewer of this smorgabord of mental delipidation) can quite work out sometimes whether we are in the past, the present or somewhere in between.

Maud experiences the world choppily, as if via partially open Venetian blinds. She sees snatches of the present, but these are almost always over-laid with very associations of the past. And this is where the debilitation of dementia is so beautifully presented to us. We see where new memories are weak and tissue-thin, so the now becomes a blurred misty thing, where past memories are weighty and strong, piercing through the fog of the present like skyscrapers through a London pea souper. Mental associations send her spinning into the past with increasing regularity and slowly but surely through accident and dogged determination Maud begins to solve the crime that so blighted her younger years. In the present Maud forgets she's put the kettle, the iron and the toast on, whereas is the past she is a young girl fighting her way through an unresolved trauma that she must now put to bed.

Masterly writing. Winner of the Costa First Novel prize. Emma Healey is a very talented young writer who conveys with a deftness of touch that is subtle and beautiful the mental demise of dementia, making us love Maud, hate what's happening to her whilst desperately hoping she can find the answers she seeks in her past. If you want to learn about character and writing in the first person Elizabeth Is Missing is a master class.

(****) Four stars

Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life
Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life
by Paul Dolan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.49

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff, happy by design it says and happy by design it does, 16 Jan. 2015
This is a good read. Intelligent, clear-sighted, honest, open and non-pompous. An academic who sounds like you and me, an academic with insight and clarity, a man who just wants us to look long and hard at how we experience our lives. The joy here is in the self-discovery so I won't say an awful lot but if you've read Daniel Kahnemann's Thinking, Fast and Slow this is a logical build from that, meshing economics, psychology, neuroscience and biology in manner that is not only intuitive but also reads true.

As we know from Dr Steven Peters Chimp Paradox we are two creatures, Chimp and Human, from Kahnemann's books, two systems, Fast and Slow thinking and here from Professor Dolan, two selves, an evaluative and experiencing self. This book is all about nudging us to explore the difference between these two selves, Dolan arguing very cogently that it is our evaluating self that has much more of the attentional resources our brains have to give each day.

Happiness By Design asks you to do just that, to explore your life through your experiencing self, conduct an experiment on your life making notes on where your sources of happiness lie, Dolan suggest very strongly we need to look at what he calls the Purpose and Pleasure axis. Happiness is both purpose and pleasure and the correct balance between them. He argues very convincingly that all the work by Walter Mischel on delayed gratification (you know the old Marshmallow Test - if you don't see here) while correct does not explain how people are able to forgo happiness now with the promise of more happiness later.

Dolan suggests that if we think about happiness in terms of both pleasure AND purpose, then purposeful activities that deliver a sense of well-being, helping others, making a contribution, bringing in our daily bread for our families, allow us to engage in activities that aren't necessarily pleasurable but fulfil our need to connect, to do, to be in the world interacting with people.

The book is a mine of insight both large and small and it is reassuringly delivered by a humane, self-effacing and open chap who tells us quite a bit about his own upbringing and life experience, both good and bad, to deliver his points. It's not showy writing, it not a demanding read at all, but a very life-affirming one.

Thank you to all involved, I am currently running my DRM (day reconstruction method) analysis right now to ensure I am sifting every possible happy design moment from my environment to maximise my well-being and that of those around me. Read this book, it will help you think differently, a light from science into the often benighted dark of our over-active and sometimes very unhelpful minds.

Professor Dolan works at the LSE in London, advises government on the pursuit of policies to promote well-being and seems, rather remarkably, to body-build in his spare time!

In a nutshell there's a lot here that's a scientific and psychological basis for mindfulness; we are happiest when we pay attention to whatever we're doing at the time, whatever, actually, that task is (with the possible exception of the dentist chair). Be here now, the philosopher cries, Paul Dolan in this book explains why.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2015 10:24 AM BST

Before I Go To Sleep
Before I Go To Sleep
by S J Watson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.86

3.0 out of 5 stars Clunky & contrived (sorry), 10 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Before I Go To Sleep (Paperback)
In my journey to explore genre and story of all types I find myself reading outside my comfort zone. Off YA and children's for a bit, so as to return with a clearer-eyed perspective so deep in the soft mallow of airport fiction in this read.

I am not worthy to give this review and I have ummed and ahhed about it for a while. In the end I have gone for honesty and if you end up reading this SJ (after all the vagaries of social media mean the degrees of separation have probably quartered from six to two) then I am sorry but in the end, though I stuck with it until the last page, it didn't work for me. Having established it wasn't working, I set about trying to pinpoint why and here are my conclusions, more post-mortem then than review and like a post mortem of something beloved, you might just wanted to look away now. Lots of people loved this, for lots of people this was their book of the year, industry types too, people who, unlike me, know what they're talking about. Of course everything that follows is just my opinion with as much weight and importance as a hundred-weight of nothing in the literary firmament of which this novel was and is clearly a major star.

It did exceptionally well. Crime Novel of the year, massive sales, film deal within nanoseconds with big hitters in the cast like Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong. I found the idea deeply intriguing and for the very first section, thirty pages, it had me and then it let me go. No spoilers here, the plot does twist about a bit but when the denouement comes, although I personally didn't guess it because my mind was still trying to figure out why this didn't work for me, you'll kick yourself if you don't work it out in advance.

So, why it didn't work for me;

(i) The first person perspective was SJ writing as the protagonist - a woman. And this didn't feel right, it jagged, felt contrived, some writers write in the opposite gender very well but this didn't work at all. Some of the best writing in opposite gender has to be Emma Donoghue writing as a five year old boy in room, or Ian McEwan's virtuoso performance in Sweet Tooth. This read for most of the time like a man imagining what a woman might think, about bodies and breasts and penises and it didn't feel genuine. I don't think women as an interested in their own bodies or those of men in the way that SJ envisaged it here. The metaphors were mixed and clunky and there was a general heaviness of touch to the prose style and characterisation that smacked heavily of male. A fixation on lingerie, not sure women are that interested, isn't lingerie bought by men for women? The vulnerability of the victim protagonist did generate reader empathy for a whole but for me this curdled pretty quickly into irritation as she agonised and dithered and generally appeared weak and defenceless. A toy in, well, the writer's mind, rather than a character with dimensionality, ready to walk off the page.

So, why didn't it work for me;

(ii) The plot, whilst enticing on the shelf and in that first section, very quickly became a constraining contrivance. As woman whose memories get lost at the end of everyday, except, it transpired when the writer needed her to remember things to get the plot moving. The re-remembering every morning brought a sameness to the story, this sameness of course would be a genuine artefact of forgetting everything everyday, but it was ruined when SJ broke his own rules in order to move the plot forward. Christine remembered bits, she remembered after a doze but not a sleep, she remembered actually when the plot demanded she did and very quickly I lost interest. She was no longer a disabled and disoriented woman struggling with a genuine psychological condition, but a character in a thriller who was being moved by not-so-invisible strings. My disbelief was no longer suspended and it came crashing down. The plot broke, as did the character and my interest went along with it.

So, sorry to everyone involved, it may of course just not be my genre and perhaps I should simply steer well away.

It would pass a long airplane journey without taxing you too much.

*** Three stars

The Shock of the Fall
The Shock of the Fall
by Nathan Filer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immersive, first person fiction at its very best., 27 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Shock of the Fall (Paperback)
Arriving late here, apologies, but so glad I did. A joy absolute joy.

This review will tell you little about the story, that is special and rich and immersive and so diligently constructed you can almost hear the words clicking to place. There is suspense, darkness, difficult moments and human kindness and there's hope too. This is a humane book, a loving book, a book that is about walking in the moccasins of our fellow man, a troubled and sick young man called Matthew Homes.

Matt is not well. Matt is really struggling and we experience this poignant and traumatic struggle from the inside out. Matt has schizophrenia, Matt lost his brother in a tragic accident when he was so small he cannot delineate between what is real in his memories and what is not. His illness doesn't help, his rapacious, slithering snake of an illness, a disease that shares the same mind he does. The paranoia is captured superbly, the tissue-thin barrier between what is real and what is not is shown to us live, the way real-events inspire the gyre of the mental fugue and the way those terrifying imaginative flights of fancy then propel behaviour back in the real-world. Thought sick and not, experience real or not, bouncing off each other to build an individual tower of madness all Matt's own. This is also a story of how some events are so traumatic the grief they create never eases so a normal life can never resume, grief so powerful it leaves those it hits so hard broken they cannot be rebuilt.

Read this book to see how first person narrative is done, it is quite literally an out of body experience. Matt is strange, dislikeable and at the same time deeply, deeply caring. He is misunderstood, a loner who plunges into savage addictions (nicotine, marijuna) pretty early on to help no doubt ease the scratching-tugging-biting intensity of his illness. In many places this fiction reads like biography, actually autobiography.

Fiction at it's very best, taking us to new worlds and galaxies all stuffed claustrophobically inside the tight skull of another being, be it the character we're reading or the quiet diligence of the author creating that world. Fiction that does exactly what Steven Pinker lauds it for, building on the argument from philosopher Peter Singer about the importance of "The Expanding Circle" as a strong explainer of the civilising processes that have under-pinned the rise of free, inclusive societies. The development of literacy across the civilised world through the ready availability of the printed word changed our cultural milieu, enabled us to push our experience outside our own, to quite literally live other people's lives from the inside out. This step enables us to understand other's predicament from a different perspective giving us experiences of empathy and sympathy and of wanting to help. Slowly, surely this acid of inclusivity and equality burn their way through the dark and wild prejudices (see school based blog here on the roots of prejudice) of the human animal and The Shock of the Fall is part of the expansion of that process into the minds of the seriously

mentally ill. Dismissing such people crazy and mad and just moving on is less possible after reading this book. Fiction like this breaks down walls more effectively than any hammer, the virtual walls people erect between themselves. This kind of fiction asks us to put away our prejudices and spend time in other's heads and the world is different, more complex, more understandable as a result.

Nathan Filer has done such a superb job here. Beautiful story, never trumping storying over reality, we are allowed to hold our sense of suspended disbelief right to the end, but the author leaves us with enough threads of hope to imagine a better future for Matt might be possible.

***** Five stars

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