Hey there! This is Heather posting my views on The Shock of the Fall (as you may have gathered by the title above) I do hope you enjoy...
Author: Nathan Filer
Published: May 2013
Publisher: Harper Collins
My rating: 5/5
A simplified plot overview would be that Matt suffers from schizophrenia, which targets the grief that he never really understood as a young boy when his brother passed away. The Shock of the Fall is one of the most impressive books I have read in terms of presenting mental disorders in a way that is not exaggerated or false, yet still makes the reader curious to read on. The feeling of curiosity and pure want to turn the page despite it being far too late chips away at you, like a woodpecker at a tree, until one simply cannot stand the sensation anymore and the tree falls down, sending the poor woodpecker flying (this is where the overly dramatic simile ends... the reader just turns the page). The Shock of the Fall is such a deeply personal and realistic book that to shut it seems almost rude to not keep reading – Filer’s narrator, Matt, becomes a friend who we grow to understand and care for so very much.
Perhaps the most enlightening aspect of the novel is the lack of romanticism of what is happening to him. Schizophrenia is so misunderstood and stigmatised - despite attending school for several years our institutions fail to go in depth on mental disorders (except in books read in English). This creates a society filled to the brim with people that respond to them with weariness and a sense of awkwardness. “If people think you’re MAD then everything you do, everything you think, will have MAD stamped across it.” Matt feels as though everything he does is defined by his illness in the eyes of others. This sense of isolation and being misunderstood are shown in novels like Frankenstein. The loneliness is accentuated further when Matt states; “We move in circles, this illness and me. We are electrons orbiting a nucleus.” The plural pronoun ‘we’ is interesting to consider; the company of schizophrenia is what Matt feels he consists of. To remove the electron, he would turn into a different element – I feel this is something that almost everybody considers, be it with mental illness, impediments, disabilities or even just what we view as flaws. It is natural for one to ponder the possibilities of who we could be if one thing, one crucial thing was gone.
The style of writing is very personal, yet not overly deep, just enough to make it believable and human. There are swear words, there are imperfections – particularly in the scattered order of memories that Matt brings to life. When you look back on life, a slideshow of events pop up: the things that have scarred and hurt and mended and made you who you are today. Matt looks on these as “the moments that make the dot-to-dot pictures of our past; everything else is simply filling in the gaps.” This idea insinuates that our lives aim to make a picture, some of which are obvious from the tenth joining of a dot, others which remain difficult to detect until the last dot is done. The metaphor is a positive view of life, concluding with an objective and purpose. There are subtle hints of this optimism throughout the story; “The rain wasn’t so much falling, as dancing all around in a fine spray, shining silver in the moonlight.” The pathetic fallacy of rain would generally suggest a dreary atmosphere yet Matt feels quite the opposite. It is easy to complain and whine about matters like rain, appreciating it displays strength in character.
It seems that his approval of the world juxtaposes with his view on himself. As a youngster, he is constantly reminded that what happened (no spoilers on exact details) is not his own fault yet it may be this constantly lecturing that creates the opposite to happen; “I felt guilty for getting older, for leaving him behind,”. After experiencing most of primary socialisation following his brother, he does not want to move on without him. Furthermore, the concept that you cannot visualise that person at the age they ‘would’ be as easily can make it all harder to deal with. It is even possible that he conveys a fear for moving on in life, hence he writes the story down; “Writing about the past is a way of reliving it, a way of seeing it unfold all over again. We place memories on pieces of paper to know they will always exist.” He cannot stand the idea of forgetting Simon, which makes it tricky to move on. His writing is a method of storing these feelings of grief, letting it go yet also keeping it safe. In the novel, he looks upon some memories with confusion, he even looks on a certain event in three different ways, unsure of which to believe. Like in the Go Between, he is somewhat disturbed by his memories blurring and changing.
To conclude this review, one more quote to show you the pure brilliance that is Filer's portrayal of schizophrenia; “It’s like we each have a wall that separates our dreams from reality, but mine has cracks in it. The dreams can wriggle and squeeze their way through until it’s hard to know the difference.”
If you want to get a general feel for the style of the book then I would recommend listening to Lullabies by All Time Low. I often find that music relates to the books we read as both aim to provide the audience with an image of how the writer is feeling. In this case, the protagonist of both endure both grief and guilt, their emotions are as changeable as the British weather at points (like when Matt strays from his medication). I honestly do believe that most people would enjoy this novel though, particularly those with an interest in mental health.
Also, if anyone has some book recommendations then that would be great or comments on the book from yourself. I hope to be writing about Sane New World by Ruby Wax sometime soon.