The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer is at once "heartrending" and uplifting. An inspiring portrait of the trials and tribulations of living with mental illness. 

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer was first published in 2013 under the title Where the Moon Isn’t. It is Filer’s first novel and is partly based on his personal experience working as a registered mental health nurse. The Shock of the Fall won the 2013 Costa Book of the Year as well as the 2014 Betty Trask Prize. Nathan Filer works at Bath Spa University, where he is a writer and lecturer in Creative Writing.

he Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer Review Cover and Portrait 2013 Costa Book of the Year


“I should say that I am not a nice person.”

This is where The Shock of the Fall begins, somewhat ominously. But this book is fantastic. If I had to use one word to describe The Shock of the Fall, it would be powerful. It is the story of Matthew, a 19-year-old schizophrenic, who is relaying his life story. It all started when Matthew’s older brother, Simon, dies at the tender age of 11, and 10 years later Matthew is still reeling from this tragedy. Matthew was only 9 when the horrible accident, which he blames himself for, took place, but it has since shaped the course of his entire life.

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“Memories were falling away, like a dream when we first open our eyes. It was a lot like that. I could only make out the edges - night time, running, the police were there somewhere.”

After the loss of Simon, Matthew’s life changes immediately. His mother takes him out of school to begin homeschooling and Matthew is forced to become a recluse, with only his parents for companionship (at least for a little while). The family (typical) never talk about or deal with the loss of Simon, a happy-go-lucky boy with a moon-face. Yet, Simon is always there, every day, in every mundane activity, and Matthew can never forget the events that led up to that fateful accident.

“There was the shock of the fall and the blood on my knee, and Simon carried me all the way back to the caravan, all by himself, without any help from anyone, even though it half killed him, but he did it anyway, he did it for me, because he loved me.”

The Shock of the Fall isn’t only a novel about mental illness; it’s about grief and its lingering effects. It’s about family, and what happens to families when tragedy strikes. Not only do you learn about Matthew and his illness, but you get to meet his kooky parents and his amazing grandmother, Nanny Noo, all of whom have been greatly affected by his disease, as well as their own issues, of course.

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“ illness with the shape and sound of a snake. It slithers through the branches of our family tree.”

Filer skillfully tells a story of resilience, both individual and familial. He introduces us to characters that are engaging and familiar, people that we all know in our everyday lives. The Shock of the Fall is by no means the first novel on the topic of mental illness. But Filer addresses this sensitive, often touchy subject in a way that is at once understanding and relatable. Many of his readers (us) have likely had to deal with something similar in our own lives, in our own families, and we feel an immediate connection to Matthew and/or the members of his family, who love him and want him to get "better."

“I am myself, the same self I have always been, the one person I can never escape.”

Filer uses pictures and different font styles and sizes to weave together Matthew’s story. For me, these didn’t really add much, I was already hooked, but they didn’t detract from his writing either. Personally, I am all about the narrative, I want to read a good story, to escape from life even if just for a few minutes, so the extra bells and whistles aren’t really necessary (one exception - House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski; if you haven’t read it, do it NOW).

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At the very end of The Shock of the Fall, Filer leaves us not with a happy ending, but with an ending that inspires hope. At the end is a beginning...The Shock of the Fall says a lot about the realities of mental illness because it doesn’t have a feel-good, everything is going to be great ending. Mental illness is always a battle, BUT there’s always hope, the promise of a new beginning.

“We move in circles, this illness and me. We are electrons orbiting a nucleus.”

My advice - read it! Let me know what you thought of my review by commenting below. And, as always, share with friends, families, co-workers, anyone!! #FMWLiteraryReflection

**Featured image via Amazon