Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Book review: The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer

I found 'The Shock of the Fall' in a little independent bookshop in the town I live in. It's definitely not the type of book I usually look for in there, but I'm really glad I found it. The attraction was that it was voted Costa's Book of the Year for 2013, so I hoped it would be worth the read. I also really love the cover of the book, which is actually something that would usually put me off buying a book; when the cover's nice I feel like they're often trying to make it pretty to make up for the content. But after reading the blurb I was really interested.

'I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce you to my brother. His name's Simon. I think you're going to like him. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that.'

And I was hooked. This is both the blurb and an excerpt for the very beginning of the novel; there's something about these few sentences that immediately creates mystery and suspense, and yet complete and utter certainty. It's amazing to read something that can combine these polar opposites and have it actually make sense. The book is based around mental health but doesn't really delve too deep into the psychological elements that the average reader wouldn't understand. Any terms that aren't common knowledge are often defined simply by the narrator, which I personally found very useful. I also really liked the written style Filer has gone with, showing the narrator to actually be typing out the whole novel himself, with different fonts showing the use of both a computer and typewriter, with little doodles added in here and there, which kind of makes it seem all the more personal and, equally, fairly disjointed. As a reader you sort of jump from memory to memory, which is something explained by the narrator, Matt: 'This is how we piece together our past. We do it like a jigsaw puzzle, where there are pieces missing. But so long as we have enough of the pieces, we can know what belongs in the gaps.' As a reader you're kind of left to fill in the gaps yourself, and it's a lot easier than you would first think. Because, not knowing what actually happens, allows us to have our own little part in the story, attempting the fill the cracks in the memories ourselves. That's probably the thing I love most about reading: everything is how you make it; there's no distinct right or wrong ideas. Reading almost allows you to take part in the writing of the book, adding what you think could happen in all the gaps.

The book could have caused sympathy, but Filer's writing style almost begs you not to sympathise, because at the end of the day, it's unlikely you'll have a clue how it would feel to be in Matt's position. I quite like the lack of emotion present at most times, with the odd glimmer of feeling from the narrator dotted here and there, but usually shown through him doing something rather than sitting and thinking about how he feels. Although, saying that, he's talking about everything in hindsight, writing after the events have already occurred, so maybe he's expressing his feelings in reaction to everything that's happened rather than remembering what he felt at the time.

One of my favourite lines in the book is: 'She's known sadness, and it has made her kind.' After thinking a girl, Annabelle, was somewhat evil as a child, Matt ends up realising that she'd been very sad at the time, and as a young adult, he meets her again, hearing her story and understanding how the events from her childhood had made her a better person in the long run. I think it's reminded me how important it is to remember that most of the time we have little clue what's going on in the lives of others, thus it's wrong to judge them, especially only on a brief encounter with them.

Overall, I found the novel very eye-opening. The combination of the events and how they unfold in a non-linear format really gives the book it's full impact. The detachment from emotion is essential to the plot and the result of all its events. I thought it was a brilliant book and struggled to put it down. I would recommend it to a young adult reader; I think someone the same age as the narrator would be able to follow the plot best and really appreciate the content most, but equally anyone older could easily enjoy the read.

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