There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.
There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.
There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.
The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.
The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.
When I finished reading The Shock of the Fall, I put down the book and glanced over the title appraisingly, instantly the word ‘Shock’ leapt out from cover page and smacked me around the face. ‘Shock’ like shockwave, like aftershock, like the ripples that reverberate through time after a cataclysmic event, the kind that move everyone in one way or another, from the inner-circle to the outer-rings . Never was there a title that touched the story so deeply (but if you can think of any you’d like to discuss, let’s get the conversational juices flowing below.)
Having familial experience of the struggles that mental health issues can cause, I found this book to be both touching and profound. The main protagonist of this book, Matt, is troubled by the death of his brother during a family holiday when he is young added to this he is also grappling with schizophrenia. The death is a mystery but it is not, we know that Matt’s brother has died, we have a good sense that he died accidentally but when told through the prism of Matt’s muddled thoughts, it is still a mystery to the reader until the point of revelation. Conversely, it seems many of the events surrounding Simon’s death are also a mystery to Matt. Occasionally Matt can go off on tangents, assumes the reader has knowledge of things they couldn’t possibly know of, repeat himself and give contradicting accounts. Despite this, I resist the temptation to refer to Matt as an unreliable narrator because, for all intents and purposes I feel that Matt is as reliable a narrator as he can be and therein lays the beauty of the novel. It provides a peephole into the world of someone suffering from schizophrenia, an occasionally disjointed and confusing read and, in that, it is exactly what it is intended to be.
What I really liked about this novel was the interplay between the supporting characters and Matt, the way that each individual seemed to have their own way of coping with both ‘the shock of the fall’ and the struggles that can arise with mental illness. Sometimes Matt can be quick to anger or express irrational frustration with people who are trying to help, both can be symptoms of mental illness and add realism to the story. I found the character Nanny particularly endearing, to me she was Matts anchor during his periods of stormy seas.
Another notable feature of this book is the way that it uses fonts to add realism, for example, when Matt is utilising his typewriter or writing a letter the font makes this obvious, sometimes it felt like I was reading personal notes than reading a book. I’m aware many writers use this technique but there was something engrossing about the way the typewriter (so important to Matt) pulled the character from the page when the type font was used.
I won’t spoil the story by delving into too much detail during this review, but I will end with this, I couldn’t put this book down and read at every chance I had. I would absolutely recommend this book to readers of adult fiction.