Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer

The Shock of the Fall
Nathan Filer
Series: N/A
Genre: Contemporary, Mental Illness, Adult
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: A+++
On Goodreads

Wow. I picked this up to read casually on a trip from Edinburg to London and I completely forgot where I was going because I read and thought about the book for those eight hours.

The blurbs are a bit gushy and a bit much, but this novel definitely is remarkable.

Obviously, the most powerful thing about it is the realism that Filer employs. In much the same sense that Mark Haddon employed a very realistic depiction of Christopher in The Curious Incident, Filer presents Matt with utter sincerity. His understanding as a mental health nurse is readily apparent with his straightforward representation of not only the patients but the staff and the institution as well. Both have their ups and downs and the struggle is not tamped down. Filer doesn't seem to have any agenda other than capturing the essence of the system. I didn't feel pushed to over-sympathize with the sometimes indecent practices against the patients, for example. There is a strong sense of the shackling that patients have on them . . . confined to a place because they cannot function in society, doomed to take pills with a hundred side effects, some for the side effects themselves and they can't do anything, about it. Matt admits "I don't hate these people. I just have not having the choice to get rid of them." and that about sums it up.

The way that Filer approaches his themes on death and mental health also begin to linger and they feel sincere and poignant coming from Matt. (Thankfully, there is a good sprinkling of humor to keep you off your feet.) Furthermore, there are small things that add to this picture Filer paints. Simple drawings along with an array of fonts add to the feeling that the text is inside Matt's mind and the reader is experiencing the world as he would. It's terribly confusing with letters and rambles and diary pages thrown in all at once until you realize it should be there. In addition, the story itself isn't always straightforward. Matt reflects a lot and gets lost in his train of thoughts quite often.

But holy Poseidon. The writing. Filer could write about drying walls and he'd probably find a thousand interesting and heart wrenching things to say. Go to the Quotes section of the Goodreads for a glimpse of what I'm talking about.

I can't pick a favorite but it's so varied. You can have "Hello, my name is your potential. But you can call me impossible." or "If it rains outside, or if you stab a classmate's shoulder with a compass needle . . . that is weather." or "The girl with the red hair . . . is called Annabelle. Try and remember that if you can. Hold on to it . . . keep it safe somewhere." A lot of it is poignant only in context so I urge you dearly to read this book it is very very good in terms of writing.

Because of such unique wording and musings, Matt's character comes to life on the page, which is something very minor but very important. The characters are so vivid, I constantly wondered about the origins of the story itself. Matt being haunted by his dead brother constantly, for example, and Filer does so well to place you in Matt's head that the feeling is absolutely painful. One bit that always gets me is this: "It is dark, night time, there is mud in my mouth, in my eyes, and the rain keeps falling. I am trying to carry him, but the ground is wet. I lift him and fall, lift him and fall, and he is silent. . . . Please. Please. Talk to me." And "He could speak through and itch, the certainty of a sneeze, the after-taste of tablets, or the way sugar fell from a spoon." Gosh it hurts.

My main concern, I suppose, is the common one The 'mystery' really is implied quite early on in the novel and though the big reveal takes place two hundred and fifty something pages in, you'll probably have figured it out. And it really didn't bother me much, considering I felt, at the very least, it allowed the novel and Matt's life to have a more linear passage. Furthermore, there is a similar case in The Curious Incident, and the same thought came to me: it's probably meant to be this way. I find it hard to believe Filer, whose writing otherwise is perfectly sharpened, would have botched up the underlying 'mystery' if he intended it to truly be a mystery. But thinking about it made me consider a few other predictable things in the novel. A small thing for this kind of work but it's a fair warning.

- Marlon

So . . . trust doctors? Dentists?
Let us know in the comments!

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