‘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.’
The Shock of the Fall is a breath-taking debut novel that intertwines the threads of grief, guilt and mental health with the powerful voice of Matt Holmes, a nineteen year old boy suffering from schizophrenia. It is no surprise that it won the Costa prize for best first novel! With beautiful clarity Filer brings to life the narrator within the very first sentence.
“I should say that I am not a nice person.”
Every word of the novel is precisely chosen and carefully constructs the inner universe of Mathew’s mind. We are welcomed into his thoughts, his flaws, his understated acts of kindness, and observe the chaos that slowly takes hold of his life. Filer has cleverly positioned every chapter, piece of dialogue, revelation of plot, to masterfully portray an unravelling psyche and the ever-looming sense of guilt-ridden grief. The Shock of the Fall is a work of stunning skill.
“My illness knows everything I know.”
Filer thrusts upon you a sense of helplessness, anger, resignation – our role as reader is to realise the societal failures with respect to mental health. These failures, the cracks within the healthcare system and attitude of individuals which entrap the characters of this novel, are reflections of the shameful treatment that is begrudgingly offered to so many today.
And yet, despite the harrowing undertones of mental illness, kitted together with grief, Filer manages to coax out a laugh with his humorous language. Matt’s wit in the face of his own illness peels back the layers of tragedy to show perhaps the one constant light within the novel: the strength of humanity’s spirit.
“Not making excuses, but I am a schizophrenic”
Beautifully haunting and with refreshingly unique characterisation, I am tempted to reread The Shock of the Fall. There are too few novels which discuss the consequences of mental illness and its treatment, and certainly none with such finesse.