I’d heard many good things about Nathan Filer’s debut novel The Shock of the Fall, particularly after it was awarded Costa Book of the Year 2013, so I had high expectations when I came to read it.
The Shock of the Fall is written from the perspective of Matt as he descends into the struggles of mental illness after his brother’s death.
Nathan Filer is a registered mental health nurse and he handles the subject of mental illness delicately and deftly throughout the novel, offering an insight into the mind of a young man living with schizophrenia. Filer’s knowledge is apparent throughout, and scenes with Matt in hospital in particular give a strong and overpowering sense of the repetitiveness of his life there. Yet despite Filer’s obvious knowledge in the subject, after finishing the novel I still found myself questioning the realism of the book – is Matt’s schizophrenia accurately portrayed?
However, Matt seems to be believably drawn throughout the novel and his insights give a glimpse into his life with mental illness. The characters surrounding him are also realistically depicted, as they all work to cope with their own struggles – the mother in particular is delicately drawn and the grandmother is a wonderful addition to the novel.
The structure of The Shock of the Fall is an interesting one and works well to capture Matt’s life and state of mind. The story is written by Matt and, in effect, we are holding the pages that he wrote on his typewriter and at the computer in the centre he attends, his own drawings, and letters he receives. The writing of his story is a very active one and one that readers are present at, constantly aware of the writing process. The story isn’t written lineally, instead Matt changes direction according to recent events or what he’s feeling at that moment. Our reading of the novel is interrupted as Matt himself is interrupted – he writes ‘STOP READING OVER MY SHOULDER’ as a social worker attempts to see what he’s writing, for example. This structure works well to help depict Matt’s character and to shape the story.
According to the ‘Q & A with Nathan Filer’ published at the end of the novel, Filer took a course in Suspense Fiction as part of his MA in Creative Writing and this is apparent in the novel’s structure. There is certainly the feeling of suspense, with the expectation of an answer at the end hanging over the novel. As the end nears, the pace of the novel picks up and delivers a moving ending.
I read so many glowing reviews of The Shock of the Fall that I had high expectations and was subsequently left feeling slightly underwhelmed by the novel. Yet it’s a perceptive, moving (although a little sentimental at times), and sometimes humorous tale that paints a delicate portrait of mental illness.
Have you read The Shock of the Fall? What did you think? Has the hype surrounding a novel ever left you feeling underwhelmed when you came to read it?