Much like Mark Haddon’s autistic narrator Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Matthew in ‘The Shock of the Fall’ offers insight into the mind of a young person who is schizophrenic. Using images, letters, and different fonts, the narrator takes us on a journey through Mathew’s inner voices and different personalities. His brother Simon has Down’s Syndrome and dies early on in the story (this is not a spoiler, it’s right on the back of the book!) so the author explores how the family copes not only with mental illness, but also with grief.
Both funny and painful, the narration often goes like this:
‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name is 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 the same after that.”
Writing a novel like this is ambitious and rightly won the Costa Book Award for 2013. Filer does a good job of sketching the life of someone suffering with mental illness, who depends on medications (with horrible side effects), has little opportunity for independence, and is constantly misunderstood. The author is himself a mental health nurse, so has obviously used his experiences and his observations to inform his writing. It is a heartrending account of a difficult life but written quite unsentimentally, as was Haddon’s. Both novels allow us unique insight into the mind of the protagonist, although I think Curious Incident was more readable because I felt Haddon was more skilled at building suspense.
Note: Published in the US as “Where the Moon Isn’t”