Discussion location: The Atrium

Chosen by: Claire

Review:

The Shock of the Fall, another debut novel (we seem to choose a lot of those don’t we?) comes highly commended having won the Costa book award for best first novel. The novel is narrated by Matthew Homes, a 19-year-old with schizophrenia who is struggling within the mental health system and trying to deal with the sudden death of his brother Simon when they were children. There are no spoilers here, as this isn’t a traditional story.

Having been given a typewriter by his grandmother Nanny Noo, Matthew writes the story as a form of self-therapy, and as such, the novel details the unravelling of Matthew’s mental state interspersed with recollections of Matthew’s life, before and after Simon’s death. These recollections lead to the eventual revelation of the circumstances of Simon’s death, and the novel ends with Matthew gaining some closure. As stated by Lorna, the ending can make or break a book, and this ending makes the book memorable.

The novel’s structure and style is unusual, with different fonts and pictures representing different parts of his story, and with Matthew at times communicating directly with the reader to explain gaps in his memory. While the atypical structure and style add to the texture and credibility of the story, some of us found it confusing at times to place the events in the overall timeline of the novel and to understand what was happening.

Having worked as a mental health nurse, Filer knows his subject, shining a light on how difficult it is for patients in mental health services and their families. He provides an honest and believable account of someone with schizophrenia, dealing with a challenging subject well. Moreover, by presenting it from perspective of the schizophrenic, Filer provides deeper insights into the illness and its effects on the family. He perceptively explores relationships and reactions to the death of a child and illness of another, and the relationships described make the novel both sad and touching in parts.

Indeed, for all its acclaim and the high score we’ve bestowed here, the novel comes with a slight disclaimer: if you’re looking for something uplifting or you aren’t interested in reading about mental health, then this isn’t your cup of tea. Otherwise, hats off to Mr Filer, let’s see what you’ve got next.

Overall score: 8/10

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