The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

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The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A worthy winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2013 and an author to watch. Difficult subjects are dealt with sensitively and the book is an unexpected page turner. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: May 2013
Publisher: Harper Collins
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0007491438

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Matthew has a story to tell us. It begins in his childhood and on a particular holiday when he encountered a girl called Annabelle who was burying her doll, but the story isn't about Annabelle, it's initially about Simon, Matthew's older brother and we know what's going to happen straight away:

I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name's Simon. I think you're going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that.

Matthew's nineteen when he tells us his story and the way in which he tells us is the only part of his life over which he has any control. We might read about Matthew's relationship with Simon and with his parents, with the world at large but what we hear is the story of Matthew's descent into mental illness. The story comes off the page in exactly the way that Matthew tells it, complete with his art work, hand-written letters and a typed manuscript. It adds substantially to the story and it's been well done.

There's also a sensitive exploration of grief and what happens to a family when they lose a child. Matthew and Simon's mother - Susan - never recovers from Simon's death and her life afterwards is defined by the event. It's not simply a Simon-shaped hole which she will have to fill. Matthew is consumed by guilt and haunted by his brother - he's a physical presence in his life. Nathan Filer has worked as a mental-health nurse on in-patient wards and he captures perfectly the way that mental illness fluctuates and the fragility of mental health.

That might sound heavy - but, believe me, it's not. There were times when I laughed and times when I cried, but I couldn't put the book down. The story of a young man's mental health problems is not something which I would normally find gripping but Nathan Filer introduces an element of suspense which I would not have believed possible, particularly as Matthew spells out what has happened in the first few pages. It's a fairly substantial book at 320 pages but I read it in two sittings, desperate to find out what had happened.

It's not long since I read Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera and I was convinced that it would be difficult to beat for the Costa First Novel Award 2013 but The Shock of the Fall was the winner. I'm not convinced that it's a better books but I do know that it's a worthy winner.

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