The Shock of the Fall is a novel that did actually originate in a creative writing class and fully deserved to be nurtured, promoted and available to the wider world. The first novel of former mental health nurse Nathan Filer, it won the 2013 Costa Book of the Year accolade and has been drawing comparisons to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. It follows the story of 19-year-old Matthew Homes and his struggle with his brother Simon. The thing is, Simon has been dead for 8 years but Matthew is pretty sure he’s trying to return.
Special needs eldest son Simon was playing with Matthew on a beachside holiday when a tragic accident happened and his younger brother has always felt responsible. When puberty hits the problems begin, as is typical of schizophrenia, and although Matthew knows that his ideas and brief flickers of interaction with Simon are irrational and improbable still he can’t shake them off. His grand uncle is revealed to be a long-time sufferer of a similar illness and his parents endeavor to get him the help he needs, but as with any mental illness there are many degrees of trail and error involved in finding the right course of treatment.
It’s a very compelling and moving tale, told with great compassion and honesty. Nothing feels exploitative about it, and being written by someone with experience in juvenile mental health it feels authentic and true. Matthew feels like a whole human being despite his fractured thoughts, and his parents, friends and the professionals who work with him are very well rendered through the eyes of a teenager.
A brave subject matter for a first time writer, it doesn’t read amateurishly, instead it feels meticulously yet effortlessly crafted. It doesn’t pull punches; as sympathetic as you are towards Matthew there are times when you feel incredibly frustrated with him – as do his parents are carers. Such is the nature of the disease of course, and it’s a feat to have put it into words so convincingly.
Filer uses an interesting device; it’s supposed to be in the various mediums of writing that Matthew has been using to tell his stories. It begins as you would expect, as computer type on a page, but in turn is portrayed in a typewriter style, as doodles, a few letters of communication are also included and so forth. It’s also somewhat non-linear, in that it takes intermittent chapters to discover the truth behind Simon’s accident and what happened in the intervening years up to Matthew’s hospitilation.
Touching, arresting and even funny The Shock of the Fall fully deserved its win, and your readership.
– Aoife B. Burke
First Published in The Tuam Herald on 17.04.14.