Tag Archives: Nathan Filer

The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

I am rather late to the party with Nathan Filer’s debut novel, we flirted (the book and I not the author, just to clarify) with each other around the time that it won the Costa, and as soon as it came out in paperback I bought it, yet the subject of mental health was one that always worries me with a book and so I held off. However when my book group chose it I was really rather excited to be finally getting to read about it, and then I was slightly cross with myself for having not read it sooner – isn’t that just the way?

Borough Press, paperback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, bought by my good self

The Shock of the Fall is really two stories combined, both told by Matthew, in the present Matthew is a young man with Schizophrenia (‘I have an illness, a disease with the shape and sound of a snake. Whenever I learn something new, it learns it too … My illness knows everything I know.’) and who has been sectioned and is dealing with the current mental health system. The other story is one which we get glimpses of, never quite alternating, as we read on and relates back to Matthews childhood and the death of his brother. As we follow Matthew’s narrative not only are we given insight into the system and how it is, or isn’t, working for him; we also follow the fallout, grief and guilt of a family after the death of one so young and the circumstances around it.

Both parts of this story are handled wonderfully. Firstly there is Matthew’s now as he tries to get to grips with his illness, the system that he has to be in, the community around him and the drugs which he must take. All these things that he feels at odds with and in many cases are things that he has no control over, how is anyone meant to get a hold on that and indeed their own illness at the same time? Filer not only looks at that but looks at how the people around the person with the mental illness deal with it to. Matthew’s mother, who I thought may have had undiagnosed issues, not so well, his father who just tries to get on with it as best he can and Nanny Noo (Matthew’s grandmother) who does all she can to help. I found these reactions and the interweaving relationships with them, Matthew and each other beautifully drawn if not always comfortable to read.

As I mentioned before I am always dubious about books that deal with moral issues and in particular mental health, which is why I don’t often read it. This is mainly because as someone who had had depression on and off, with extremes both at the end of 2010 (when my marriage broke down) and last autumn (after Gran died) and so, not making it all about me honestly as every depression is different from one person to the next, I have a very visceral reaction to the subject. Disability, of whatever kind, can either be done so well it makes me want to cry with joy that someone has dealt with it in such a way or it can be done in a way which is almost like using it as a way to sell the novel, almost making money out of the issue itself.

Filer deals with it deftly. Some reviewers might put this down to the fact that Filer was a mental health nurse which to me does a disservice to how good Filer’s writing is. Firstly, you’ve still got to be able to write bloody well to turn what you know into fiction secondly Filer was the nurse not the patient whose head he gets into so well. There are many standout moments for me but two remain; one the feeling of utter boredom in a ward and from the effects of the drugs you are on to make yourself ‘normal’, the other the lack of control you have over your own life.

 ‘Who?’
‘Service Users. Um – Patients.’
‘Oh. Right.’
They have a bunch of names for us. Service Users must be the latest. I think there must be people who get paid to decide this shit.
I thought about Steve. He’s definitely the sort to say Service User. He’d say it like he deserved a knighthood for being all sensitive and empowering. Then I imagined him losing his job – and to be honest, that caught me off guard. I don’t hate these people. I just hate not having the choice to get rid of them.

Also the other major strand to the book has nothing to do with mental health and is it here that some of the most touching and heartbreaking writing can be found, and that is saying something because Matthew’s present has those moments too. As I mentioned earlier not only is Matthew a young man who is suffering from a mental illness he is one suffering from grief and how to cope with it. As we go back with Matthew we learn of the wonderful, and often idyllic, childhood that he had with his brother Simon until a trip away that changed it all. I won’t give any spoilers, and if like me you try and guess it you will think you are right but you’d be wrong, but I found the sections discussing his love for his sibling incredibly moving, and the grief even more so.

Shhh, shhh. It’ll be ok. That’s what he said as he placed me down outside our caravan, before running to get Mum. I might not have been clear enough – Simon really wasn’t strong. Carrying me like that was the hardest thing he’d ever done, but still he tried to reassure me. Shhh, shhh. It’ll be okay. He sounded so grown-up, so gentle and certain. For the first time in my life it truly felt like I had a big brother. In the few short seconds whilst I waited for Mum to come out, as I cradled my knee, stared at the dirt and grit in the skin, convinced myself I could see the bone, in those few short seconds – I felt totally safe.

It takes a skilled writer to make a story which appears and hide within another one to read naturally, it also takes a skilled writer to make both a present and past narrative as interesting as the other. Filer does this and also, rather wonderfully, makes us care about them in equal measure. He also does something with the style of the book which for me made the book go from great to brilliant. As we read The Shock and the Fall we come across doodles, the text will change from computerised to handwritten, hand written to typewriter, type writer back to computerised as Matthew writes all his thoughts down wherever he can. There are also wonderful and funny chapter titles like ‘Please Stop Reading This Over My Shoulder’ so that with the texture of the different texts (which seem to take on different tempos of his thoughts) and these titles we actually feel that we are in Matthew’s head, as well as tones of despair, rage and humour, making the novel all the more powerful.

The Shock of the Fall is a rare novel which from the outset looks like it is talking about mental health; those who suffer from it, those around them and the system which we have for ‘dealing’ with it, yet in actual fact is a book about life, death, being different and how we cope with it all. It is also a novel which will make you laugh, cry, be angry and most importantly question what we mean by normality and how we should, or indeed shouldn’t, define it. It chimed with me and I will certainly be looking forward to whatever Nathan Filer writes next.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #38; Jane Rusbridge

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we head into the home of author Jane Rusbridge, a prime example of why we should #ReadBritish2014 as you will see when I review her second novel Rook tomorrow. Before all that though let us sit down with Jane, have some of the gorgeous cupcakes she has made us and have a nosey through her shelves, first though a little more about her…

I live and work in coastal West Sussex and am married to a farmer. We have five grown up children. I’ve been a teacher most of my life, but went back to university to do a part-time English degree when my youngest child started school. Basically I just stayed there for 18 years – firstly to complete an MA in Creative Writing after my degree, and then to teach. My writing took off about 10 years ago when my husband bought me a shed so that I had somewhere to write. I painted it blue. I have two novels published by Bloomsbury, The Devil’s Music and Rook, a Guardian Readers’ Book of the Year.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

When I don’t finish a book it will go to charity or the library, otherwise I’m a keeper. Just not necessarily on shelves. I am more of a various-piles-here-and-there person when it comes to books. My only system is that if I read something on an ereader – which I do sometimes, but only for convenience – if it’s good, I will buy the *real* book too. Novels need rereading. My second or third reading is usually more from the point of view of a writer, to see how an author has handled a particular technique, or plot structure, or ending … Ebooks are not at all pleasing to revisit and, worse, they seem to disappear from memory, don’t you find? Pfft! just like that, author, title and all. Real books keep you company in a way that ebooks don’t.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I am totally organised – it just doesn’t look like it! New books go straight into the ‘piano’ room (never touch the piano these days, except to put books on it), in one of several piles: new fiction, research, friends’ books, classics to revisit – that sort of thing. With fiction, when it’s read once it goes on the book shelves made by my other half, in alphabetical order (vaguely). Poetry books go into a small (rather impractical) bookcase in the living room. Books about writing and books connected with my previous novels are on shelves in my writing room. Currently I’m researching for novel 3, and all my research books are therefore lying everywhere about the house. In piles.

'Rook' bookshelf

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

This may be a mis-memory, but I think it was The Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis, with money I got after having no fillings at the dentist. I was lucky as a child and had many books bought for me. (Also, I did not have a filling until I was 19. Not many people know that). The copy I have is a hardback and in a box of books in the attic, now that our children are grown-up. I’m glad you reminded me, because now my grandson has arrived I need to get those books down. I also might need to make use of my husband’s shelf building skills again.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

We used to have a copy of The Joy of Sex, which we hid from the children when they were small. They obviously used to thoroughly investigate all the hiding places in our room however, because when the recent TV programme based on the book was on I learned that at least one of them came across it. The only other book I keep out of sight I couldn’t possibly tell you about, otherwise I’d have kill you!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I treasure my father’s very old medical books. He was 57 when I was born, quite old for a dad, and he died on the night of the ’87 hurricane – so, a long time ago. He was passionate about the value of books, and read to me a lot when I was child.

Precious books my father's medical books

Also, an old illustrated copy of The Dawnchild by Beryl Irving, which was a book I used to read when I went to stay at my grandparents when I was little, while my mother and father were on one of their trips back to Scotland. I loved staying there. Like you, I was given this book when I was older, and it’s the associations which make it precious.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

A J Cronin’s Country Doctor. My mother watched Doctor Finlay’s Casebook avidly, but my father had told me the book was the Real Thing. I didn’t ever read it!

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

To be honest, these days I tend to buy the books I want to read. I spend more on books than almost anything else. I daren’t add up my annual expenditure, so don’t ask.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Where Zeus became Man by Sabine Ivanovas, a book of photographs and notes about Cretan shepherds. It’s for research.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Oh goodness – where to start? The next book I’m planning to buy is The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

They might notice that I read mainly contemporary novels, and my non-fiction reading is rather uneven: masses of books on Harold II and rooks; books on knots and rope; books on Crete. Their fingers might itch to tidy up my book heaps. I hope they realise I love books and reading.

research & TBR piles

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A huge thanks to Jane for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Check back on Monday for a review of her second novel Rook. In the meantime if you would like to find out more about Jane visit her website here. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Jane’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Week That Whizzed By Before The Looooong Weekend

I feel like I have no idea where the last week has gone. Actually that is a big lie, I know exactly where the week has gone. Work ate it. I spent Sunday working most of the day, then working until 9pm on Monday (in the office) and then 11pm (at home so in some comfort/reach of cupcakes) last night. I have been well aware that the summer will be utterly mad and I will be working left right and centre (which I embrace as I like to be busy at work), I wasn’t quite expecting it to be this mad this soon.

Hopefully the madness is over, for a while at least, though this has meant that in the last four/five days has involved working or slobbing on the sofa/sleeping. Though I did manage to record an episode of The Readers where I moan about having no time to read – oh dear! Hoorah’s ahead though as with all those extra hours I have now got a lovely long three day weekend ahead of me and (after having spent this afternoon having a lovely lunch and then lazing with a DVD, the cats, sweets and the Beard – who feels he hasn’t seen me in forever) I am going to dedicate those days to these…

A Long Weekend of Books

Yes it is time for a long weekend of book binging. I have a huge craving for crime so plan on heading straight into some S. J. Bolton, then I really want to read Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall which I bought in Waterstones when I fell in deliriously the afternoon before it won the Costa, Deborah Levy because I have become a huge fan and some lovely ‘early Levy’ books turned up in the post this week. Then I have two books with ‘deadlines’ of sorts to them. Oscar Wilde’s short stories have been chosen by Kate for the next Hear… Read This! and book group is a week on Saturday and Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder has been chosen by Rita – all I know is it is a fictional tale involving philosophy and its history, I am terrified of it yet also hoping reading it might make me seem brainier and able to spout philosophical diatribe left, right and centre. Ha!

I also plan on doing some reviews and catch up on comments here and blogs all over the shop. Bliss. What are you reading at the moment or are planning to read? How do you manage to find time to read when there seems to be no time to read? Have you read any of the books I plan on devouring this weekend? Note: I know I won’t read all of them! What else is news?

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