Archive for April, 2015

THE SHOCK OF THE FALL by Nathan Filer

‘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.’

This is the gripping opening of Nathan Filer’s debut novel. The book was chosen as the Costa book of the year 2013, and has gained positive reviews across the board:

‘Exceptionally moving without being sentimental – we’re very much hoping there will be more from this writer… astonishingly sure-footed…’ Rose Tremain
‘A gripping, exhilarating read… passages that have a sort of simple poetry’ GUARDIAN
‘Authentic, funny and hauntingly sad’ SUNDAY TIMES

So, what did Berwick Book Group members think of it?

Martin is hard to please, but he writes: ‘This sounds like damning with faint praise but I quite liked The Shock of the Fall. Not a lot to say about it, except that it highlights our abandonment of the sick, criminal, elderly, unemployed, unemployable, anyone who doesn’t fit a narrow social spectrum of fortunate human beings. The focus was upon those deemed “mentally ill”, a diagnosis of itself open to endless debate. With treatments at about the level of blood-letting and leeches for physical medicine it painted a picture of containment and the chemical cosh. And even this only available while we can be bothered to pay for it. As always it is a time of economic difficulty so “difficult decisions” have to be made. Difficult for those who have to suffer the consequences so that those with the resources and means can continue in their feather bedded luxury. I don’t think they want me as a tory candidate.’

The reaction from other members was also generally positive. Although the majority opinion was that The Shock of the Fall was not a great novel, everyone thought that it was a good read, particularly moving in its depiction of grief and how grief affects a whole family. Everyone liked the characters, particularly Nanny Noo and Matthew’s father. The relationship between Matthew and his mother after Simon’s death was the subject of some interesting discussion, particularly about the mother’s desire to keep Matthew dependent. Some were less convinced by Matthew as a narrator, feeling that he was too child-like in his outlook. Others liked the transaparent simplicity of the prose.

The book’s exploration of mental illness was met with a more mixed reception. Some members particularly liked the way that schizophrenia is portrayed through the eyes of the sufferer – they felt that Matthew was not defined by his illness. He was a funny and intelligent narrator. For instance, when he has to stop writing because ‘Jenny from Art Group is doing a nervous bird impression, fluttering around at the top of the corridor, trying to catch my attention’, he finishes with ‘That paper-mache won’t make itself’. However, other members felt that they knew no more about the illness having read the book, and they saw this as a failing.

We also discussed plotting – did the book have suspense and tension or not? Some felt that, because we knew from the start that Simon had died, the suspense was not there. Others were keen to find out the circumstances around Simon’s death, and also found suspense in Matthew’s journey – literally – to the cliff edge.

Everyone found the ‘celebration of Simon’s life’ scene affecting, although some of us felt that it teetered on the edge of sentimentality and created too ‘neat’ an ending.
I found this novel very affecting. I read it on my Kindle and I wish that I had bought a hard copy – the use of different fonts would have been much more effective, I think. I enjoyed the thematic symbolism – ants, atoms, ‘I’m lost’, dolls – and the way they were used to make connections. It was particularly moving when Annabelle at the end said, ‘shh shh it’s going to be okay’, repeating what Simon said to Matthew after the shock of the fall. I also found it very sad that a moment of completely understandable childish cruelty should have shaped Matthew’s whole life and outlook. There’s a terrible dilemma at the heart of Matthew’s illness – he can reconnect with his brother but only during a psychotic episode. To be well he must say good bye to Simon. I also enjoyed Matthew’s mockery of the language of psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses. This ‘documentese’ is also used to shocking effect when, in Matthew’s first psychotic episode, he reads the old man’s personal notes and Simon is there, claiming to be in the body of the old man.Matthew’s typical day in the psychiatric ward is a powerful depiction of the state of mental health services in the NHS.

Recommended reads from group members this month:

A book of Death and Fish by Ian Stephen
We Are All Made of Glue by Marina Lewycka
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
The Wind’s Twelve Quarters by Ursula K le Guin

Ann Coburn

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About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit www.newwritingnorth.com/submit/join-berwick-book-group.

April 2015
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