Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Shock Of The Fall

The blurb: 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 really the same after that.

Rating: 4/5 stars

This book has been on my radar since it first won the Costa Book of the Year award in 2013. I was intrigued, knowing that it was a story about mental illness which I think is always an interesting topic and especially as the author is a registered mental health nurse, I was really interested to see what kind of insight this would give. I wasn’t disappointed!

The story is narrated by Matthew who attends a day centre for mental health patients. He has decided to write his story down in order to make sense of his illness and past events, in particular the death of his brother Simon. The reader learns very early on that Simon died when both boys were much younger while on holiday, and that the mixture of guilt and grief Matthew is feeling have acted as the trigger for his descent into mental illness, however the exact circumstances are not revealed until the last part of the book. This adds suspense which I loved and I really wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to Simon, but I think Matthew’s own description of his experiences is even more intriguing and really well written. You gain a real insight into schizophrenia as an illness and how it manifests itself, but the story is also a very interesting look at the approach of the health service to mental illness; Matthew writes a lot about the kind of routines imposed on him and his fellow patients, and his feelings towards the staff on the ward.

The story isn’t the easiest to follow at times; a few chapters are written out of chronology and you have to kind of figure out for yourself where certain parts fit into the timeline, but this reflects Matthew’s complex frame of mind, and I think if anything this exhibits Nathan Filer’s skill as a writer. Different fonts and spacings are used at different points in the book which are useful in keeping up with which setting Matthew is writing in at the time – sometimes on an old typewriter given to him by his grandmother at home, other times at the day unit. He is a brilliant protagonist and one that you can easily sympathise with; equally, the supporting characters are all wonderfully realised and all felt very real. Filer describes everything beautifully. Whilst I wouldn’t say that I found this book upsetting, it was definitely moving and often very sad to see how Matthew changes from an innocent little boy to an adult experiencing a great deal of confusion.

I finished this book over the space of a couple of days, and probably would have finished faster if I’d picked it up to read over a weekend! A very compelling book and definitely worth a read. 

Too long, didn't read? Here's my Goodreads review:

The Shock of the FallThe Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very moving book, telling the story of Matthew who is suffering from schizophrenia following the death of his brother some years ago. Brilliant characters and wonderful writing combined to provide a valuable insight into the experience of both mental illness and grief. Definitely recommended.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

The blurb: What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment?  
Rosemary doesn’t talk very much and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back, back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.

Rating: 3/5 stars

This is completely different from anything I’ve read before, and that’s all I can really say without giving away the twist! The best way to read this book is to go in knowing as little as possible, so this is going to be a very short review as I really don’t want to give anything away that might spoil it for any new readers.

I will say that this was a very compelling, smart and thought-provoking read with a highly interesting subject matter. The blurb intrigued me right from the start and it went straight on my to-be-read list, and I’m very glad that it did. Rosemary’s father is a psychologist (not technically a spoiler, if you’ve read the description!) and although some of the things discussed were already familiar to me from studying an A-Level in Psychology, I have come away feeling like I’ve learned so much. I didn’t feel like this was forced either; the book was very well paced and easily digested despite dealing with a complex issue.
You might be wondering why I’ve given it only three stars if I liked it so much, and that’s because I felt like most of the last part of the book was quite irrelevant. I’m just one reader so this might be different for everyone, but I felt that I got all the answers I was seeking about Fern, Lowell and what happened in Rosemary’s family about two thirds of the way through, and everything that followed seemed unnecessary and harder to stick with. I think it’s obvious that the author feels very strongly and had more to say about the things discussed throughout the story but I did feel a bit preached to by the end, and I just think it could have ended earlier and still had the same effect on the reader. Other than that, a fantastic read – highly recommended!