The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer was recommended to me by a friend of mine. Published in 2013 as Filer’s debut novel, it was winner of the Costa Book Award 2013, Specsavers Popular Fiction Book of the Year 2014, and winner of the Betty Trask Prize 2014. Filer worked as a mental health nurse on in-patient wards and drew on his experiences in this book.
‘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.’
The narrator of the story is Matt Holme, a 19-year-old schizophrenic struggling with guilt surrounding the loss of his brother Simon. This book is the story of his life, following Simon’s tragic death. Matt’s thoughts often jump around between the past and the present, and the story is told in a stream of consciousness, showing the reality of his struggles with mental illness. The illustrations and choice of font throughout the book serve to illustrate the anxiety and experiences running through Matt’s mind.
There is no getting away from the fact that this book is tragically sad. But Matt is heart-wrenchingly endearing. He is only too aware of how he appears to others. He is scathing of his medical notes, mocking what is written about him. He delivers frank and sarcastic observations about his life on the ward, where every day is the same. “Repetitive, aren’t I? I live a Cut & Paste kind of life.”
Throughout the book, we gradually learn what happened to Simon, as it’s woven into Matt’s story. We learn how the overwhelming guilt and grief has shaped Matt, and how his grief unfolds all over again when he begins losing the hallucinations of his dead brother; it is like losing Simon once more.
The book is about the true struggles of mental health. It is about grief and loss. It is about guilt. It is about kindness. It is about resilience. Filer has written a truly special piece of work, a book that left me feeling almost numb upon completion. A surprisingly easy read despite the heavy subject matter, The Shock of the Fall will worm its way into your heart and stir up a conflicting mess of emotions.