The Shock of the Fall
London, HarperCollins, 2013, 307p
The Shock of the Fall is the debut novel of Nathan Filer, a registered mental health nurse turned creative writing genius.
When Matt's brother dies, everything changes. Matt idolised his older brother and blames himself, and a decade later we meet Matt at a day centre where he is in a therapy program. With access to a computer, Matt has decided to start writing about what happened at the caravan park in Dorset.
Matt is an incredibly honest narrator, detailing with vivid descriptions the tiniest of details: such as the way one of the care nurses clicks and winks at him, or the excitement of the morning routine of his childhood. But there are hints of secrets untold, to be revealed as you edge deeper and deeper into his story.
Mental health is a complex and sensitive subject to novelise. Here, Filer is informed and open, demonstrating the full range of emotions experienced by his young protagonists, from numbness to raging anger, from confusion to desperation. The plot jumps back and forth, from present day as Matt taps away at the computer to memories of his childhood, shared with his brother and later without. It's repetitive, too - Matt openly states that he sometimes feels like a broken record, unable to move on or escape.
I like to think of myself as a fairly educated reader, but even with this novel I learnt a lot. Matt talks about how people react to mental health patients - the tone, the terminology, the body language - and I found myself reflecting on my behaviour. Undoubtedly, this is the kind of novel that stays with you.
Filer wrote this novel whilst studying for an MA in creative writing, and it shows. He is a very contentious novelist, demonstrating a wide range of skills and styles - dialogue, description, soliloquised rants, and abstract dream sequences. But this variety is perfect for a protagonist with schizophrenia, allowing the reader to delve deep into Matt's mind.
This is a devastatingly emotional novel - simply beautiful. The complex style is powerfully effective, enticing the reader into a world few of us can fully comprehend.