The Shock of the Fall is the debut novel from Nathan Filer. The novel focuses on the trauma and grief that Matthew faces as he tries to come to terms with the death of his older brother when they were both young children. Grief is a well-worn theme in literature, but Filer looks at it from a different angle. In this novel, the grieving Matthew is also a schizophrenia patient who was at least a little culpable for the death he mourns. It takes a while for the reader to discover just what role Matthew played in his brother’s death, but we can see from the outset that he blames himself, and that his parents face a struggle to stop themselves from blaming him, too.
Written as a kind of diary, the novel does a fantastic job of representing the struggles of schizophrenia. The narrative is scattered in a haphazard fashion, skipping between the muses of the nineteen-year-old Matthew, his actions as a young boy, and pretty much every age in between. It focuses on three or four main difficult periods of his life, but at times you aren’t sure which you’re in. Although this sounds as though it could get quite messy, it doesn’t. It allows the reader to learn the details of the story slowly, while also experiencing a realistic insight into the protagonist’s mind. It would be hugely inaccurate if this first-person account of mental health ran in a perfectly linear fashion, and Filer has done an excellent job of balancing the novel between chaos and cohesion.
In Matthew, Filer has created a believable, sympathetic, and complicated character. The mix of anger, stubbornness, sadness, confusion, and hilarity make Matthew more than a mental health cliche; they make him a fully realised and completely loveable character.
Any Cop?: The novel has already won Costa’s best debut novel award. It’s easy to see why. It manages to stay suspenseful and intriguing even after giving you the guts of the story in the first few pages. You will laugh at Matthew’s actions almost as often as you will feel like crying, and there are quite a few uncomfortable moments that will make you squirm. And the ending, which could have been extremely sentimental if handled only slightly differently, is perfect. It’s heartbreaking, redemptive, and bittersweet. A beautiful debut.