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Category: Literary fiction
Format: Paperback (borrowed from library)
Content Warnings: Death of family member, grief, drug abuse, mental illness (depression/anxiety/schizophrenia) and institutionalisation, references to self harm. Please note that The Shock of the Fall also contains active suicidal ideation so use caution if you are sensitive to this topic.
The Shock of the Fall begins with nine-year-old Matthew experiencing a tragedy which he cannot tell us about. It’s just too painful. For the rest of the story, we follow him through the years of childhood, adolescence and into his first grimy flat and minimum-wage job.
All the while, Matthew’s grasp of reality fragments as he struggles to come to terms with what happened that fateful night on the coast.
First Chapter Impressions
It’s been a very long time since a book has gripped me so quickly from the beginning! Filer makes use of a unique structure and multiple formats, as the narrator Matthew fights to tell us his fragmented story.
This unusual structure gave a real intensity and urgency to the narration – it feels that we are on a journey with Matthew, trying to make sense of events alongside him.
Final Page Reflections
The Shock of the Fall belongs to the same category as most of my favourite books: achingly emotional and moving, not afraid to confront the darkest facets of life but also reminding us of our shared humanity, and people’s unfailing ability to amaze and surprise us. The kind of book that makes you feel like a different person when you finish it.
Filer’s beautiful writing style is a particular highlight, managing to see the magic in the everyday without being overly sentimental.
“You only really know what a smile means when you own the face behind it. Everyone else just sees the smile they expect it to be.”~ Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall
Diversity and Representation
The Shock of the Fall was our book club pick for a mental health awareness-themed month. Filer works as as mental health nurse so it feels as though he has authority on the subject and a genuine desire to build understanding, rather than just exploiting a particular narrative.
This story also refuses to make simplifications – from profanity to moments of profound insight, all of these snapshots form part of Matthew’s complex experiences.
A balance struck between darkness and wry humour (which Matthew uses as a coping strategy) allowed the novel to starkly confront the horror of mental illness without feeling entirely void of hope.
- Mental health
Beyond the Book
In our book club discussion, we agreed that, while the representation of mental illness in books is important, its even more important that its done sensitively. For this reason, we appreciated the author’s background in mental health nursing, as this made Matthew’s experiences feel authentic.
Is there possibly a risk of mental illness themes and narratives being exploited for the purposes of plot?
1. Do you agree that authors writing about mental illness should have some form of experience or authority, to avoid potentially exploitative narratives?
2. I really enjoyed the unusual structure of The Shock of the Fall, it added intensity and urgency to the story. What did you make of it – did it enhance your connection with our narrator Matthew?
3. Which side characters did you find most sympathetic or unsympathetic?
“Mental illness turns people inwards. That’s what I reckon. It keeps us forever trapped by the pain of our own minds”~ Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall
Read if: You want to be turned into an emotional wreck by this achingly poignant portrayal of mental illness.
Buy Now from Better World Books:
Have you read The Shock of The Fall? Know any other books with sensitive mental illness representation that I can read next? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!