Book Review: The Shock Of The Fall By Nathan Filer

The Shock Of The Fall By Nathan Filer - Header

I have finally read enough to realise the type of books I like. By that I don’t mean the genre, I’m still a firm believer in not condensing yourself into one specific group or another, it is such a rich and imaginary world that it seems beyond foolish and narrow minded not to keep your eyes open to it all. Rather, I have realised that I like a novel with a beginning, a middle and an end. I like a story that feels in motion and in which A leads to B and concludes with C.

When it comes to choosing a book to read you can obviously place weight onto recommendations from friends, previous works you’ve read or simply looking at the “best seller” charts to see what’s popular. And sometimes you just have to judge a book by it’s cover. That’s exactly what I did for The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer. I’d never heard of it but it seemed popular and well received online. It’d won the 2013 Costa Book Of The Year Award and more importantly, of course, there was something about the cover that grabbed my eye.

Cliched Image Of Mental Health - The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer

Opening the first few pages I knew nothing about what it held in store. I had no idea what to expect or what the story entailed. In fact, if I’d known that it was an almost bleak monologue of a young man’s descent into self deprecation and mental illness then I may, actually, have thought twice about reading it. I have a fascination with psychology and the question: why?; I have enjoyed reading a number of books about mental health, but only when they never lose sight of that question. Why? I don’t want to simply be recounted someone’s own, personal, destruction. It’s unpleasant be bring to life in my mind and having my own mental health problems, something I find too painful and unenjoyable to do. The highs are never there and the lows all too relatable.

The Shock Of The Fall follows a young man from childhood into adolescence and on into full blown adulthood. The whole time detailing how a single pivotal event in his life, and the subsequent actions of those around him come to twist, warp and bully his mind until it snaps and he implodes into his own bubble of safe, implausible normality however removed from society it may be. A concaved attempt to find peace, happiness and reason for his life.

His story is sad and made all the more so by the fact that I actually liked him as a character. He is instantly relatable and while nothing special, I never thought I was watching the wasting of a man who should be out changing the world, I would be happy to call him a friend. I didn’t like to see him go through this torture. He felt real and I wanted to help.

Meandering Path Through Woods - The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer

This realism extends beyond the character though and that is my major problem. His story is told through the structure of a wandering set of thoughts. A name, a sound, a smell, miniscule keys unlocking unconnected memories that are recalled and replayed, disordered in his mind as he types his story. And while it may be accurate to real life, to the way our minds wander and weave based upon external factors rather than be constrained by the standard forward, linear passage of time, it makes the book very hard to follow as a whole. The story jumps too often from him being 9 years old, to 19 and back to 9 before snapping back to present day.

The book is written well though, each event and memory is brought to life so you can see it, hear it, smell it, but you can never tie everything together. Too often I just wanted to scream at the pages “where are you taking me?” I just wanted to feel like I was heading in a direction and not just aimlessly wandering around hoping I may eventually arrive at the answer. This meandering slowed the book down far too much. It is always a risk with a subject matter as dark and difficult as mental health that the story may become heavy and bogged down and Nathan Filer has managed to avoid this, instead providing a tale that is light and involving. I’d even get caught up in the individualism of each chapter and therefore, keep turning pages until the current memory presented passed on to the next, but I could never connect the bigger picture, and too often the way it jumps backwards and forward made everything feel repetitive. I connected with the character because I could see and understand his pain. I liked him, I wanted to help him, support him, I didn’t want a constant reminder of how he got there on every other page, which sadly is what I found.

Costa Book Award - The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer

As a result, the book has left me slightly torn. I enjoyed reading it because I liked it’s character, but I didn’t like it’s story and I hated the construction. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why it has got the reviews it has and why it won the Costa award. Living with a mental illness, knowing how the mania of seemingly unconnected thoughts flirt and fleet through your mind, it feels on point and accurate. The style and language used fits the broken world I have in my own mind. Filer has captured the symptoms and given them a body to inhabit but I still can’t get beyond why that would make a story you could enjoy? Thankfully, it never pokes fun at mental illness, it handled it with care and compassion, but it doesn’t really present any positive outlook either. It’s just a sad story that is happening to a nice character that never really goes anywhere. And where’s the fun in that?

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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