The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer - Book/Reading Group Choice
It is no surprise that this book was the winner of the Costa Book of the Year (2013). Filled with intrigue and suspense from the outset, it continues to grip the reader until the very end.
The story is told through the eyes of Matthew Homes, a 19 year old boy struggling to carry on with his life after a catastrophic event when he and his brother were young children and from which he now carries the burden of guilt. At the age of 19 he has still not come to terms with what happened and is now in the throes of a serious mental illness.
This book pulls no punches and the narrative is at times raw and arguably designed to shock the reader. A sinister hint is woven through the narrative that is at times both poignant and haunting.
Filer gives the reader a compelling insight into what it means to live with a harrowing mental illness that can completely take over your life and its heartrending effects on both the sufferer and his family and friends.
This book will live with you long after you have finished reading it.
The next thing I knew Mum was turning up the volume of the radio, so I wouldn’t hear her crying.
It was stupid I could hear her. I was sitting right behind her in the car and she was crying really loudly. So was Dad for that matter. He was crying and driving at the same time. I honestly didn’t know if I was crying too, but I figured that I probably was. It seemed like I should be anyway. So I touched my cheeks, but it turned out they were dry. I wasn’t crying at all.
They didn’t turn around. I never felt the reassuring squeeze of a hand on my leg, they never said it would be okay. Nobody whispered, Shhh, shhh.
I knew then – I was totally alone.
Questions/Points for Discussion
If you don’t want to spoil the storyline, please do not read the questions until you have finished the novel.
What effect does Filer’s decision to tell the story in the form of Matthew’s personal narrative have on our understanding of the other characters in the novel?
What techniques does Filer use to draw the reader into Matthew’s mental illness? How effective are these techniques, for example did you gain a real insight into what it means to suffer from such a serious mental illness?
Throughout the novel Filer uses a variety of images, text and font styles, letters and chapter headings, in your opinion do they add to the impact of the novel?
Do you think Matthew’s mum was punishing him with the frequent visits to the doctors via his school or do you feel she was neurotic and worrying excessively about Matthew’s health as a result of losing her eldest son?
What effect do you feel that the taking of illicit drugs played on the path that Matthew’s life took? Do you feel that this could have led to the onset of his mental illness?
The Telegraph’s Martin Chilton observes that the guilt Matthew feels at the death of his brother Simon “leaves him needing to be ‘managed’ by the local community health team.” Do you feel that this is a fair analysis of what happened to Matthew? What course do you think Matthew’s life would have taken if his brother had not died so tragically, for example would his mental illness still have manifested?
The Daily Express and Observer Magazine have commented on Filer’s ability to observe the dark comedy of life and incorporate humour into serious subject matter. Do you agree with their analyses? Were there parts of the book that you found humorous whilst also being poignant and emotional?
In your opinion, is the end of the novel uplifting and hopeful for Matthew’s future or sad and pessimistic?
About the author
The Shock of the Fall is Nathan Filer’s first novel. As well as a successful author he is a performance poet who performs at literary events across the UK. His work has been broadcast on TV and radio. Filer also writes articles on topics such as the state of mental health care and human rights issues. He has been employed as a registered mental health nurse and has worked on inpatient psychiatric wards. He has also worked as a researcher in the academic unit of psychiatry at the University of Bristol.
Listen to Nathan Filer discuss his novel:
Praise for Nathan Filer
A stunning novel. Ambitious and exquisitely realised, it’s by turns shocking, harrowing and heartrending. The writing is so accomplished it’s hard to believe it’s a debut – it’s clearly the work of a major new talent –S J Watson
Dark, touching, sweet and funny and beautifully written – Jo Brand
Bittersweet and wonderfully etched – Daily Telegraph
Compelling – Observer
Terrific, engaging, funny and inventive – Joe Dunthorne (author)
You’re going to love it – Daily Mail
Deeply moving – The Times
If you enjoyed this book you could also try:
- The curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon
- We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
- Elizabeth is missing by Emma Healey