Review: ‘The Shock of the Fall’ by Nathan Filer

I had many reasons for interest in this novel by Nathan Filer. They recently all piled up and forced me to finally pick it up off the shelf. I don’t think I bought the book very long after it came out, but it must have been a little while, since my copy has the ‘Costa Book of the Year 2013’ sticker image on!

the shock of the fall

I bought it on one of those trips in Waterstones. The ones that I try to avoid for the sake of my bank account – when there are so many exciting things on offer and buying something is inevitable. The questions end up being – how much can I limit myself to, and what looks most worth it?

My second push of interest came while investigating the Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa University. In the list of notable alumni of the course, there was Nathan Filer’s name. My eyes were drawn again to the novel on my shelf, which I now knew had partly taken shape on the course I was interested in.

Then I came across this brilliant TedxYouth talk at Bath by Nathan Filer about writing an award-winning best-selling first novel. If you’re at all interested in the process of writing a novel or writing one yourself, it’s well worth a watch.

The final push was a strong recommendation from a friend in the form of “You need to read it. Now.” I couldn’t put it off any longer.

I read this book in two dedicated sittings and whipped through it. It is, definitionally, kind of addictive. The voice of the narrator, Matthew Homes, is incredibly strong. The opening sentence of the whole book fulfils the old cliche advice about starting a story totally – it is unexpected, characteristic, and gripping. I’ll let you enjoy it for yourself.

The brilliance of this novel lies in the fact that it follows two distinct trajectories. Immediately, the story narrates a few weeks in the life of adult Matthew Homes as he attends a day centre and manages his schizophrenia. While there, he writes down his memories, particularly focusing around the death of his brother when he was a child, superimposing the narrative of his whole life onto the frame of a few weeks. It is masterfully done – the whole thing unfolds entirely naturally. Matthew’s experience of his illness is beautifully shown rather than told.

I strongly recommend this book. It focuses very tightly on the narrator and a few characters around – the reasonably refined cast means we get a strong sense of everyone. The story itself is gripping, poignant, and takes us into a world that so many of us cannot understand – but a little glimpse can make all the difference.

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