I barely know where to start with The Shock of the Fall. I bought it on a whim from ASDA and began it simply because it was close at hand. I had a vague idea of the subject matter, but no more than that. Perhaps it was due to my low expectations, but this book completely blew me away. The second I’d finished, I texted Ellie to let her know that she really must read this… and I’ve recommended it to almost everybody else I know now too.
Summary: ‘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.’
That’s a rubbish blurb, so let me embellish it a tad. So, we have Matthew, who we know is writing his story down on a computer he uses at some kind of care centre. We know he had a brother, Simon, once and we also know that Matthew has been institutionalised at some point in the past. The rest of the novel focuses on what happened to Simon and Matthew’s subsequent interpretation, as well as his journey through the mental health system to present day.
Why yes, that is rather vague but so is the book. I know a lot of other readers figured out what happened almost immediately, but I just… didn’t. I was trying to interpret it with some kind of Adam-and-Eve theme due to the titular ‘fall’ and the tree on the cover. Yeah, sometimes you can over-analyse. This way though, my understanding developed along with Matthew’s and it was a wonderful journey.
I think it suits the book better if you go into it without knowing too much, so excuse me for not bringing up the details. I was lucky enough to go into it almost blind and so The Shock of the Fall surprised and moved me the way it was meant to. Apparently Nathan Filer is a psychiatric nurse with a degree in Mental Health Nursing, so he understands better than most how symptoms of mental illness can exhibit themselves.
It’s a mixture of Matthew typing away at his computer in the present day and his reminisces of his previous experiences, but there are also medical reports, family trees and official letters. In certain novels this can seem gimmicky, but here it’s infrequent and subtle enough to work. It helps that all the inserted media looks like it could be real – a lot of effort has gone in to creating logos, typeface, etc and so it seemed to demonstrate how chaotic Matthew’s world feels to him.
What particularly impressed me was that the book didn’t seem to set out to make you pity Matthew or his family. It’s more of an explanation – why Matthew acts the way he does and what might be going through the head of somebody like him. It doesn’t always make for attractive reading as he’s very difficult to like, but at the same time I found myself caring so very deeply for him.
The Shock of the Fall is a masterpiece of characterisation – Matthew and his family seem so damn real that I keep expecting to run into them when I go in to our local care facility for meetings. I’d guess that they’re drawn from Mr Filer’s real-life experience of patients and their parents as nobody’s imagination is that good!
This book really got to me. I sat there with an anxious, tight feeling in my stomach throughout and it persisted long after I’d finished. I really cared what happened to Simon, what was going to happen to Matthew and if the situation was ever going to resolve itself. This is easily, easily going to be one of my best books of 2014.