Words from the Writing Desk – “The Shock of the Fall” by Nathan Filer

If there’s one thing that a writer does not need when embarking on the daunting task of trying to get a first novel out into the world, and dealing with all the insecurities that brings, it’s bumping into a magnificent first novel by someone else!

At the end of January, Costa announced their Book Award winners. Nathan Filer won First Novel AND Book of the Year (which is the overall winner from all the five category winners) for his story about a boyhood tragedy that colours the rest of Matthew Homes’s life.

Matthew once had a brother. His name was Simon and he had an unusually small chin and large tongue, a face like the moon, and eyes partly covered at the corners by folds of skin. He was “special needs”. He was his older brother but Matthew had to look after him, not the other way around, most of the time. But Matthew failed him.

At least, that is what Matthew believes in the days, months and years that follow the accident – during the family holiday – that took Simon from them.

It is written with astonishing candidness, from Matthew’s point of view, and what is most interesting is the matter-of-fact way that we learn about the decline of his mental health. From the slow, gently ticking time-bomb of his school days immediately after Simon’s death, through the pain of his parents, his dabbling in drugs with his best friend who eventually cuts himself off from him, right through to the mind-numbing tedium of his incarceration in a psychiatric hospital; the suicide watches, the endless shuffling to the medication station, the hours smoking in the cage covered yard. We hear about his obsessive projects and the “visits” from Simon – the sound of a voice long since lost.

On the periphery of Matthew’s story (which he writes on the hospital’s computer and also on an old typewriter his Grandmother gives him), we snatch glimpse of his parent’s grief and his mother’s own irrational behaviour, and also learn of other mental illness back in his family’s past.

Nathan Filer does a fantastic job of chronicling the decline in reason and reality of someone scarred by tragic loss. And so he should – he is a registered psychiatric nurse and his understanding of the way people react and behave as a result of trauma appears first rate. Couple that with the fact that he now lectures in creative writing at Bath Spa University and you have a winner!

I am no expert myself, of course, but I found this account sensitive and realistic, and I simply could not put it down. Among the serious stuff are some comic moments, but gentle; a reminder that human existence is a wonderful cocktail of many things, and everyone complex, needy, scared.

Now, of course, I have to “follow that”, as it were, and carry on with my own first novel.

Wish me luck!

3 thoughts on “Words from the Writing Desk – “The Shock of the Fall” by Nathan Filer

  1. Rebecca says:

    Hello Debbi – lovely review, I look forward to reading the book soon. I have nominated you for a Liebster blog award (I’d never heard of it until someone nominated me). You may or may not welcome it. You can find the details over on my blog: http://betty-mcfab.blogspot.co.uk/

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