Ian Colford’s Reviews > The Shock of the Fall

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The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Read in October 2017

3 of 5 stars

Nathan Filer’s Costa Book of the Year winning first novel chronicles the mental breakdown and guilt-ridden recovery process of Matt Homes, a young man whose childhood was wrecked by the death of his older brother Simon, who suffered from Down’s Syndrome. On holiday with their parents when Matt and Simon were children, an episode of mischievous nighttime tomfoolery instigated by Matt ends with Simon dead. Matt’s crushing guilt over the event is a contributing factor (one presumes) to his later diagnosis of schizophrenia, and the novel is framed as a document Matt is writing as part of his treatment to help himself and others understand what happened. The story proceeds in Matt’s at times matter-of-fact, at times funny, at times caustically sarcastic voice, a voice that effectively and entertainingly conveys his resentment, frustration, and occasional bewilderment with a psychiatric health care system that seems more concerned with following official procedure than with making lives better. Matt is perceptive, wise to his own coping strategies and those of the adults in his life. Sometimes amused, sometimes disheartened, he watches people struggle to deal with him and his disease, and decides to make it easy on them, or not. In his telling, Matt’s parents are sympathetic: kind and caring but ineffectual, his mother depressive and over-protective, his father helpless in the face of tragedy. Other characters do not come off so well, particularly the decision-makers—bureaucrats and psychiatrists—who are depicted as aloof and judgmental. What happened the night that Simon died is withheld until near the end: only revealed as Matt’s journey comes full circle and he accepts that people other than him must share responsibility for the tragedy. Filer’s accomplishment in this novel should be applauded. He writes convincingly in the voice of a 19-year-old man suffering from a devastating and debilitating illness. His indictment of the British health care system is not subtle, but oftentimes change does not result from subtlety. Filer is trained as a psychiatric nurse, so he is writing with his eyes wide open. Dramatically powerful, authentic and socially relevant, The Shock of the Fall is not an easy book, but its rewards are many.