Book review – The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

The Shock of The Fall coverThis beautiful, funny, sorrowful book is an impressively assured debut. Drawing on the realities of the modern day health services from the point of view of a ‘service user’, Nathan Filer has woven a tale of sibling love, family grief and mental disintegration that begins with a funeral for a doll at a Dorset campsite.

Filer has been interviewed extensively about the Costa Award-winning book, and is open about the influence of his work as a mental health nurse in creating the world of 19-year-old schizophrenic Matthew Homes. Strikingly, however, he has dug deep in Matt’s state of mind and has devised a variety of means to immerse us in it, including sketches, typefaces and, always, a heart-achingly upfront voice.

This first person account gives Filer a freedom that he has made full, and very skilful, use of. Flipping backwards and forwards through time gives him the opportunity to keep the suspense ramped up, as we revisit crucial moments and sometimes (now putting the unreliability of Matt’s narration to excellent use) encountering several different versions of the same scene. I found his unique style swept me along as I vied to find out the truth – what happened to Matt’s brother Simon on that family holiday in Devon? And what’s happened to Matt since? Continue reading

This week I’m reading…

Three beautiful books cr Judy DarleyThree truly beautiful books – The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer, The Children’s Book by AS Byatt and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at The End of the Lane. And I am in bookworm heaven. Here’s why.

These three books, while utterly exquisite reads in their own right, meld together in extraordinarily flavoursome ways. Think of the fresh deliciousness of ice-cold tonic, then imagine adding in a generous splash of gin followed by a fat wedge of lime. See what I mean?

For starters, they each have a glorious cover in shades of blue, just the thing to lift me out of February’s traditional gloom. The glints of gold and light enhance the blue, and the fact AS Byatt’s tome features a gorgeous yet monstrous dragonfly woman makes me immediately want to know more.

Secondly, they each weave fairytales into their narratives – or at last otherworldly elements, some imagined, and some apparently real, at least in the world of their narratives.

Thirdly, each tale centres on a strong, introverted protagonist with a rich inner life – whether they’re the narrator themselves or simply one of the many characters, but each offering a sharp-sighted gaze on the events unfolding.

And finally, for now at least, each of these skilfully written novels intersperses passages of sheer, startling beauty with moments of fear and dread, bringing together poetry and horror fit to take your breath away. Wonderful.

Creativity without restraint

Drop A Stitch Drive cr Heather ChildI popped down to see the latest Expressions exhibition at Paintworks, Bristol, last week, and left with a massive smile on my face! It’s such an effusive display of the imaginations, not to mention craft skills, of Milestone Trust’s service users.

Nathan Filer cr Judy DarleyI was lucky enough to be present for the opening, when Nathan Filer, author of the Costa Book of the Year award winning The Shock of the Fall, explained his motivations for writing a book with a mental health patient as its protagonist. He mentioned his desire to put the person first and the condition second, just as he has done in his work as a mental health nurse.

It was a fantastic start to the evening, where the beauty, humour and playfulness of the items on display came before the underlying conditions of the people who made them. This was talent on display, rather than the learning disabilities, mental health needs and dementia of the hundreds of people who created them. Continue reading