‘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.’
Nathan Filer’s Costa prize-winning first novel is clever, engaging and highly original. This quote from the blurb sets the tone for the whole story. The main character, Matthew Homes, is a 19-year old sectioned schizophrenic, whose frank description of his own life is both endearing and heart-rending. The novel is his “writing therapy” which he jokes is just another meaningless bit of psychiatric jargon, like “patients” suddenly being called “service users”. Then there is the annoying proliferation of pharmaceutical promotional mugs, pens and booklets littering the Day Centre, which to Matthew is as good as being in prison and having to look at adverts for locks all day.
These are clearly reflections of the author’s own experience. Filer was a mental health nurse and has undertaken research in the area of psychiatry. He well understands the endless repetition and mind-numbing boredom of institutionalization.
It is this insight, as well as Filer’s exceptional and imaginative skill as a writer, that renders the story so engaging. We learn from the beginning that Matthew is in some way responsible for the death of his older brother, Simon, who had Down’s syndrome. The close relationship he had with Simon, the guilt he feels for his death, and the pernicious, all-consuming characteristics of his disease are what drive his writing. Everything is creatively presented using different fonts and drawings, and includes sections where he talks directly to the reader.
By the time I’d finished reading, I wanted to go right back and start all over again. The book was originally published in the U.K. as The Shock of the Fall.