47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
For once this is a novel which justifies the publisher's hyperbolic claims - it really is terrific. I found it utterly engrossing, readable, funny, enlightening and very moving.
This is the story of Matthew, a young man who suffers from schizophrenia. It is narrated by Matthew himself and one of the most striking things about the book is the brilliant authenticity of his narrative voice. I am no expert on schizophrenia, but to this layman it felt and sounded utterly convincing, shifting in tone according to his medication and whether he is taking it, capturing things like Matthew's anger, wit, bitterness and sadness with remarkable vividness and painting an unforgettable picture of the things which happen to him. It took me right inside that young man's head and gave me a wholly believable picture and understanding of what he is going through and why he behaves as he does.
The story is superbly told. The structure is fragmented as Matthew writes in various places and states of mind and we get his history woven into descriptions of what is going on as he writes. Again, this is excellently done and really adds to the feel and sense of the book rather than just being a novelistic trick. Other characters and places are brilliantly painted and he captures (and sometimes excoriates) the language and types of speech of others (especially medical staff) extremely well. I found the whole thing compelling in that way where I felt very glad to have half an hour free to read some more.
I think there's always a worry with a book like this that it is using a Big Subject and a Clever Narrative Voice to market a mediocre novel. This does nothing of the kind: it avoids mawkishness, it is never sentimental and it treats its subject with respect even when being very funny about it. The whole thing is intelligent, honest and compassionate.
Comparisons with Mark Haddon are inevitable. This is a different story from The Curious Case but I genuinely think it is as good - and I know that's really saying something. This is one of the most involving and memorable books I have read for quite some time. Very, very warmly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 1 June 2015
I read this a while back last year, however, I'm still raving about it. What a beautifully written, evocative and emotional story.
It's narrated by Matthew, the main character of the book who suffers from a mental illness. Tragedy strikes in his family at an early age, and this is the story of his struggle to overcome the guilt and loss he has been living with ever since his brother died.
Filer writes this novel in such a way that you cannot help become emotionally entwined with the story and indeed it's characters - they made me laugh, angry, sad and were at times, very thought-provoking.
Being a Psychology student, I cannot fault the account given by Filer about Matthew's struggle with Schizophrenia (of course, each sufferer has their own account of what it's like to have a mental illness), however, I felt like it was very accurately written and sensitively dealt with.
All in all, and in my own opinion, of course, this book is absolutely faultless. The mystery of how his brother died (which isn't revealed until nearer the end of the novel) absolutely grips you and doesn't let go. Each character is so raw and real you cannot help but empathize with each and every one of them. I couldn't put this book down.
190 of 212 people found the following review helpful
When reading at the weekend, I have some rules - I can read before getting up, but must not sit down with it again until after lunch. With this wonderful book, I tore up the rulebook and read it in one glorious sitting.
I was absolutely fascinated by this story narrated by Matthew Homes, a teenager suffering with mental illness in the wake of the sudden death of his brother Simon. For a difficult read in terms of subject matter, this is an easy and flowing read - a strange comment maybe, with the fragmented time frame, the different typefaces, and the dips into and out of Matt's mental illness, but it was all accomplished so effortlessly. There are lovely touches of humour, acute observations about life and human behaviour, and a set of exceptionally well drawn subsidiary characters.
I particularly liked Matt's parents - the tableau presented of them sitting as a family watching Eastenders, the father's awkwardness with his "mon ami" greeting and secret handshake, and the mother's attempts at home schooling after Simon's death (where Matt was forced to make deliberate mistakes to get her attention). His grandmother, Nanny Noo, is also a wonderful creation - calling at Matt's every other Thursday, cooking pasta bake, smoking one of her menthol cigarettes from the kitchen drawer, and already familiar with mental illness elsewhere in the family. I also loved the use of letters - Denise's attempts to get Matt to attend his medical appointments, and particularly the wonderful invitations.
It's hard to believe this is a first novel, so accomplished is the writing - but from hearing the author interviewed on Simon Mayo's Book Club, I know this book was a long time in the conception and writing, and that he continues to work as a mental health nurse. An incredibly moving read, and very highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2015
I definitely think this is one of the best appropriations of a troubled, psychotic individual on the written page. The imbibing of the psyche by an author of a precocious narrator with pathology, invading his thoughts and then making him write these and his own movements in endearing first person is no mean feat, but debutante Filer pulls it off with the slickness that reminds me of Mark Haddon's similar attempt a decade back with the Curious Incident.
If there is something stopping me to praise this to the heaven, it's that I felt some of the design tropes taken by the obviously-smitten creative team working with Filer were superfluous (especially the random drawings). They gave an impression of something more being afoot than just the different typing instruments available to our narrator. Also, the smokes-and-mirrors created by the flashbacks and two intertwined tragic incidents of childhood were milked for far too long and lost my interest before the lead-up to the climax.
Having said that, I have never read a better reconstruction of the confines of an average mental health unit. Having worked in one of the East London hospitals myself, Filer through his fictional surrogate, Matthew, moves about and documents the passage of time and people with such exactitude, I felt like I was back in those corridors. All the subtle sweeps at the gone-cynical patients, resource-strapped today-here-tomorrow-nowhere initiatives, ward-round meetings, litany of labels, rampant prescribing were definitely not missed by the reader. I did come to care deeply for Matthew but am not sure if I bought the brute force of the personal tragedy and resultant relief he felt in an over-choreographed-for-finale family reunion. But a good, creative debut.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2014
I’m not someone who always reads book prize winners, or necessarily enjoys them if I do; judges look for slightly different things than I do, I suppose. But Nathan Filer’s 2013 Costa Book of the Year is both prize-worthy and very readable.
I didn’t know much about the book before reading it – the blurb doesn’t give much away and I trusted a recommendation without reading any online reviews – and it’s one of those where the pleasure comes in part from the suspense and from uncovering its layers in good time. So I’m going to try and review it without saying too much about the story itself.
What I will say is that this is a sensitive, touching novel that achieves that difficult combination of poignancy and humour with apparent ease. It is a story that touches on parent-child relationships and sibling bonds, on mental health issues, on disability and on the nature of grief. It touches on all of these without becoming heavy-handed, contrived or trite. It made me want to cry on seemingly every other page without ever actually causing me to shed a tear – I can’t quite articulate why this feels like an achievement, but it does.
The narrative in The Shock of the Fall is, for me, its stand-out feature. Matthew’s voice is distinctive and real, and endearing even as it is confusing. It takes a little time to get to grips with what is present-day narrative, what is recent memory and what is more distant flashback, and I’d suggest reading this in paperback as I did a fair bit of flicking backwards and forwards to re-orient myself. Rather than being frustrating, though, this really helps to get inside Matthew’s head. I also love that Matthew acknowledges that his memory is often flawed (first person narratives so often pretend that this isn’t the case, when we all know that memory is rarely accurate); the very fact that his narrative is unreliable makes it more real and more impactful. The emotional connection is strengthened even further by Matthew directly addressing the reader – he tells you he thinks you’ll like his brother, he helps you get to know his Nanny Noo, he apologises for repeating himself – and adopting at times a very confessional tone.
Nathan Filer takes a creative approach to his narrative, making use of different fonts (depending on where Matthew is typing his story), other views (in the form of letters), and illustrations. In the author interview at the back of the paperback edition, he describes Matthew’s story as a ‘crumpled stack of writings and drawings … waiting to be found’ rather than as a neatly bound book. While he couldn’t realise his dream of everyone reading Matthew’s story in raw manuscript form, some of his narrative choices really bring to life that sense of a manuscript that is part stream-of-consciousness and part planned narrative. Added to this is the charming humour that Matthew brings to what is unquestionably a sad tale.
Matthew, though, is not the only noteworthy character in The Shock of the Fall. The secondary characters are equally vivid, real and complex; nobody is perfect and nobody is caricature-flawed. I found Matthew’s mother Susan particularly interesting. Her grief is never addressed head-on, but is ever-present and plays a huge role in Matthew’s own story. I found his relationship with her – charted from the day before the central tragedy, through home-schooling and health concerns, to the present day – really moving. His father is not quite so significant a character in terms of shaping the path of Matthew’s life, in my opinion, but again it is a moving and bittersweet relationship as they valiantly attempt to keep the little things stable without ever really addressing the big things. I was glad for Matthew that he had his grandmother (Nanny Noo) as a relatively constant and unchanging presence in his life. She is a lovely character, bringing a real warmth to the novel as she does to Matthew’s life.
I’ve read many comparisons of The Shock of the Fall to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and if we’re just looking at subject matter it’s perhaps also similar to The Silver Linings Playbook and 600 Hours of Edward. But I’d more strongly recommend this to fans of The Fault In Our Stars and Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away – both of which also tackle sensitive, tragic subjects with grace and careful humour. It is perhaps not quite such a young adult read, like The Fault In Our Stars, but I say that because of the slightly more confusing and complex structure and narrative, which doesn’t give much away explicitly and makes it a slightly harder read, rather than because of the story itself.
This is definitely one I’ll be recommending. I’d also recommend reading the author interview. I usually do anyway, but often find them a bit boring, predictable or pretentious. In this case, I really enjoyed the insight offered by Nathan Filer into the writing of this lovely book.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 2015
I loved The Shock of the Fall. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and will stay with me for a long time. Filer offers one of those rare novels that makes you fall in love with the characters, the world and the story. This novel reached deep inside my chest and squeezed my heart so hard I could hardly breathe. The Shock of the Fall is a brave novel written in the first person by someone who is diagnosed as schizophrenic as a teenager, telling the story of how their down’s syndrome brother died when he was 8 years old and how the grief affected him and his parents. I loved Matthew’s voice and how real and heart-breaking it was at times. I love the different styles used in the novel (i.e. using a different font or a hand-written letter) to show Matthew’s mental state at different points in his recovery. I love it when writers use characters who are mentally ill or have a condition like down’s syndrome. These often make the best books because they force the reader out of their comfort zone and such books stand out from the millions published every year. I finished The Shock of the Fall at work, sitting in the canteen and crying like a baby, grateful it was Sunday and there was nobody else around. The Shock of the Fall is breath-taking and I can’t wait to see what Filer writes next.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Matthew Homes is 19 years old and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Matthew's decline into mental illness appears to take a hold after the tragic death of his older brother Simon, although it was never entirely clear to me whether this was the sole reason as there is a suggestion of a family history of mental illness. Simon died when Matthew was 9 and life was never the same afterwards.
Matthew has a brutally honest voice and this is a compelling and moving account of how the aftermath of a tragic event can fracture a family. Matthew's family dealt with his brother's death in different ways. His mother appeared to exist in a state of depression and over protectiveness whilst his father retreated into himself. Nanny Noo was the only constant in Matthew's life, always there for him and accepting him for what he was.
The story flips back and forth in time, to the time before Simon's death, and the years afterwards, when Matthew takes his first steps at living independently - initially with his friend Jacob when they shared a dilapidated flat, and then as his mental state deteriorated, being incarcerated in an institution; he tells of the hell of being constantly medicated and then taking more medication to counteract the side effects. Matthew is very intelligent and the repetition and boredom of daily routine whilst detained takes its toll. However he finds an outlet by drawing and writing - he has a talent for drawing and after his beloved Nanny Noo gives him a typewriter, he realises he has a story to tell. Matthew tells his story both with clarity and confusion - at times it was difficult to follow which parts were real or his imagination which makes the story seem even more realistic.
Simon was 12 years old when he died and had his own special needs. Matthew blames himself for Simon's death and believes that his family blame him too - however the love they have for him shines through and one part of the story towards the end was particularly moving.
Having had close personal experience of bipolar and schizophrenia, I found this a very difficult book to read at times. Matthew's actions, his illucinations and thought processes were so familiar and it is quite clear that a lot of research has gone into this book owing to Nathan Filer's experience as a mental health nurse. It is an excellent debut novel and the author deserves every success.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 February 2014
An excellent insight into an individual's struggles with mental health issues underscored by a mystery plot worked backwards. Clearly written by someone with close dealings with the issues surrounding modern mental health care, it doesn't pull any punches. I likes the creative use of fonts to create and sustain mood.
91 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2013
I saw this book in a book review in a magazine and thought I'd give it a go. I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading the novel.
It's striking and quirky, the novel is written from the point of view of the main character and it allows the reader to really see into the depths of his character and how he was able to spiral into mental illness. I thought the way that the author depicted this downturn into his character to make him end up in an mental unit was well expressed and clear. The guilt that he felt about his brothers death was touching and the way that the scenes after his death and how his family went on living were really sad and very realistic.
One of the reasons why I think it is so effective is that the author previously worked as a mental health nurse so he was able to impart specialised knowledge of dealing with people with mental illness and mental deterioration.
I loved this book and am so glad that I took a chance on it and would certainly recommend it to anyone.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 2014
I was totally gripped by this book from page 1. The story seems simple...a journey through mental illness..sounds dire?? Not at all!! The writers style is beautiful, full of pathos and humour and pithy philosophical insights. Lots of quotes to highlight. Recommended without reservation.