Van has finished reading…The Shock Of the Fall by Nathan Filer

9 Jun

If I were to pick a single to word sum up Nathan Filer’s The Shock Of The Fall I would choose honest. There’s nothing here by which a reader could feel misled or set up or let down. It’s a tale told simply and told well and it carries about it a sense of truthfulness that bleeds beyond the enclosed world of a novel.

This is, I think, anchored in the surprising lack of emotional trickery in play – where the author could have leaned heavily on the heart-strings in fact he seems to have gone out of his way to avoid any whiff of sentimentality. There are genuine lump-in-the-throat moments, but it’s their very ordinariness that makes them so. This is why the story rings so true. Matt Homes, the protagonist, is not the sentimental type, so will not allow us, the reader, to indulge. When those moments come it’s what we feel for those on the page that  provokes that emotional response, rather than those characters acting out what they feel. It’s an honest response.

There is a finely-tuned ambivalence in the performance presented. Matt clearly knows that something is not right, and yet at the same time it seems wholly natural to him (I don’t think I’m pitching a spoiler here) that his dead brother should be inviting him to come and play. His good manners often battle with his wayward emotions. He frequently – and how this chimes with us as a reader, how true it feels – says or does something to his own detriment to spare another’s feelings. Yet he pulls no punches. He shows his anger, his frustration. He hurts those close to him. He shows the terrifying creep of his mania – his own impotent awareness of it.

It’s a sensitive portrait, not of a person, but of a family fractured by the shock of the fall, each struggling in his or her own way to contain the pain of it, to live with the wound it left behind. It’s also a hawk’s-eye view of the treatment process, the facilities and professionals arrayed to provide the care Matt wants/needs/is required to have. It’s a portrait of a system trying to do what it can, trying to make sense of something that really doesn’t make any sense at all.

It is a bright light illuminating a subject that continues to be something of a taboo. Through books like this it’s fair to say that awareness is growing, and I think perhaps there are the tentative shoots of tolerance, of a desire to understand breaking through.  A step closer to Matt Homes is a step closer to knowing how fine a line there is between what it is to be mentally well and what it is not to be.

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