82 of 84 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.
17 of 18 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.
15 of 16 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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I started reading this morning...and just read and read all day till I finished (300 pages but quite quick reading.)
It's narrated by teenage Matt as he looks back on his childhood and the death of his Downs Syndrome brother (we're kept waiting till the end to find out the details on that one).
As Matt leaves school (and his grief stricken mother) and begins sharing a flat and using drugs, his brother starts to take over his thoughts...
"There is weather and there is climate.
If it rains outside, or if you stab a classmate's shoulder with a compass needle, over and over, until his white cotton school shirt looks like blotting paper, that is the weather.
But if you live in a place where it is often likely to rain, or your perception falters and dislocates so that you retreat, suspicious and afraid of those closest to you, that is the climate."
A compelling read and an insight on how it may feel to have schizophrenia...the side-effects of the medication, that cause sufferers not to take it and life in the mental health system.
I did fear it was about to have an unrealistic, 'happy ever after' ending, but Mr Filer keeps things realistic.
200 of 223 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
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 18 January 2015
I find this book very hard to review but it deserves the five star rating, it is wonderful.
Having watched my son travel a very similar road the veracity of the author's observations cut to the quick. At times it was hard to continue but it was also comforting to find how familiar much of it was - we are not alone! I was pleased to find the kindness and charm remained in the main character throughout. That is also a familiar factor. It constantly amazes me how someone fighting demons can be so compassionate.
For readers not caught up in the frightening and shifting world of mental illness this will be both a gripping story and an education. Regard it as a travel book with exciting developments and a kind heart.
23 of 26 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.
92 of 106 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.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2014
When hubby and I were renovating the money pit we now call home we got to know a fair few local tradesmen. A year later we bought an investment flat and mostly asked the same tradesmen back again. In the meantime one of their wives had self-immolated. Even typing it gives me goose bumps. There I am, standing in a soon-to-be-kitchen, while a man I barely know tells me how one evening he was watching tv with his wife, their two kids tucked up in bed, when she says she thinks she’ll go for a walk (she’s been stuck at home with the kids all day). She walks to a petrol station, buys a can of petrol and a box of matches (you’re not committing hari-kari are you love, jokes the attendant); then walks across the railway track to waste-ground, douses herself with petrol, and strikes a match – so the police tell him later that evening. His wife was schizophrenic and (secretly) had stopped taking her medication.
Why would anyone choose to kill themselves in such a horrific way? I can’t even begin to imagine what was going through her mind; how a schizophrenic might think.
Nathan Filer, on the other hand, can imagine it (though as a registered mental health nurse, he has a professional advantage). The Shock of the Fall, his debut novel and winner of the Costa Book of the Year in 2011, is narrated by Matthew Homes, a teenage schizophrenic who communes with his dead brother, Simon.
The book explores issues of grief and mental health, and Filer sets out his stall from the start: Matt’s self-loathing, Simon’s continuing presence. “I should say that I am not a nice person,” is the opening line, and a few pages later of Simon that, “in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.”
But this is more than an ‘issues’ novel. The reader is drawn into Matt’s world. The first person narration is important, of course, because we experience everything directly from Matt’s perspective. And there’s the central premise of the novel, which is that Matt is physically typing the story, a premise/process complemented by the novel’s graphical layout: a change of location signalled by a change of font; traditional typeface interweaved with ‘handwriting’ and images; and ‘distractions’ in the form of hospital letters and definitions of medical conditions.
By the end we have come to understand Matt. We understand how he can “get used to having Simon around. It takes time to adjust, and time to adjust when he’s gone,” we understand the story is not “a keepsake” so much as his way of “finding a way to let go;” most of all we understand that we “don’t know the ending” to the story – Matt’s story – because for him “it’s a beginning.”
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