This book broke my heart.
I didn’t really know what I was in for when I picked up a copy of The Shock of the Fall. I liked the cover – shallow, sure, but a book jacket makes a big impression on me – and I’m always drawn to stories about family dynamics, about the moments that stitch us together and the ones that tear us apart.
This is the story of Matthew. It’s the story of his older brother Simon, his parents and his Nanny Noo (the kind, compassionate menthol cigarette-smoking granny I grew to love). It’s the story of grief and of guilt, and how both of them seem cruelly impermeable to the passing of time.
It’s also, devastatingly, the story of mental illness.
The Shock of the Fall is the first novel by author Nathan Filer, which is really quite hard to believe. Matthew’s story, his voice, is brought to life in a way that makes you feel as though it’s not a story at all.
The timeline jumps around a bit and at times I felt unsure of where, and when, we were. It was repetitive at points, but by necessity. Small criticisms compared to what this book gave to me.
The novel’s insight into what it’s like to live with mental illness – the quiet way it creeps into a person’s actions and habits and understanding of the world around him – is profound. According to Nathan Filer’s autobiography, he has trained and worked as a mental health nurse and a mental health researcher, which may explain why his knowledge of the subject matter is so sound.
I’m one of those people who dog ears the pages of books each time I read a sentence or phrase that moves me. My copy of the The Shock of the Fall is well-worn. Here are a few snippets:
“Her brother has a disease, an illness with the shape and sound of a snake. It slithers through the branches of our family tree. It must have broken her heart, to know that I was next.”
“I nestled into the nook of Mum’s arm. Then lay on a cushion on her lap. I fell asleep like that. She’s all bones and hard edges. She’s never been comfortable, but she’s always been there.”
“She’s known sadness. That’s what it is. I only just thought that as I wrote it. She’s known sadness, and it has made her kind.”
I told you that this book broke my heart, and it did. But then it mended it, and I hope it helped to open it, too.
I give The Shock of the Fall 4 out of 5 stars.
What I’m reading now: Pretty Happy, by Kate Hudson