We’re so human. Each one of us. Yet when it comes to writing about human experiences and behaviour, we often find ourselves stumbling, pulling at loose threads of our pasts in the hopes of capturing what it’s really like to live in a world so complex and often so beyond our control. Yet there is always one author, with page-turning talent and a compelling writing style, that gets it right. Nathan Filer, British author of best-selling debut novel The Shock of the Fall does just that, in a way that’s moving, poignant and delightfully touching all at once.
The reader follows the journey of Matthew Homes, a nineteen year old schizophrenic boy dealing with the loss of his brother Simon after a family camping holiday, and how the aftermath of such a tragic death catalyses his descent into isolation and imprisonment at the hands of his own mind.
An element of suspense is laced throughout and curiosity is intensified tenfold because of it. What really happened to Simon? How does a person go from being on holiday with his family, to then being taken to a psychiatric ward? All of the answers are gradually revealed through snippets of fragmented memories, leaving the reader hooked till the very last page.
Filer creates an intriguing read through a combination of letters, varying fonts and illustrations, through which he is able to build a flawed but relatable character. This sense of imperfection that a lot of protagonists in fiction seem to be immune to is replaced with someone raw: someone who has grown to understand the grey and ambiguous parts of life and is still battling on. With the opening sentence – “I should say that I am not a nice person” – the reader naturally expects a dislikeable narrator, but the effect is quite the opposite. Matthew carries a sense of innocence and an ability to love, if only his illness and his grief would let him. He’s so unaware of who he is. When catching his reflection, all he sees is a broken identity, someone caught between various personas, the image of someone unrecognisable.
I found myself with a pencil in hand, ready to scribble down any thoughts, reactions and questions as I read, underlining quotes that resonated with me on a personal level. The connection between the reader and the narrator is achieved beautifully; but I did find that although I was deeply immersed in Matthew’s world, I felt more attached to his illness and his emotions, rather than the character as a whole. I therefore found myself overlooking the other parts of Matthew’s personality, like his ability to observe the “small print” in everyday life, and his heart-warming relationship with Nanny Noo.
With its slow pace and uneventful storyline, it can be said that this novel isn’t for everyone. As I was reading I was reminded of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, drawing parallels due to its pace and its stream of consciousness narrative, which I realise that readers either love or completely hate. But for me, it worked because we’re reading about one character’s struggle, and therefore employing that this technique is effective as it depicts how long and slow the process of grief and mental illness can be. It’s never-ending, even after all of the hospital visits and therapy sessions. The inconclusive nature of the final chapters evinces this as we see an incurable yet hopeful Matthew, which I feel is the fundamental message of the novel.
I commend Filer for his powerful storytelling and his ability to capture human emotions in a believable and honest way; it’s most definitely one that will stay with me for a very long time.
I award The Shock of the Fall a fantastic 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Words by Nabeela Saghir