This is Nathan Filer's first novel. It is compellingly brilliant. Easy to read, it is also very well-constructed. The characters are all well-imagined and convincing, even the peripheral ones such as Steve, the community worker who winks and Claire-or-maybe-Anna, a character so peripheral that Matthew can't quite recall her name.
You will know that I have occasionally pondered why we read. Perhaps, when faced with the lethargy of some of my A-Level students, I should ask why many people don't read....but that is for another blog. For now, I have a crystal-clear answer to my first question. We read, because, every so often, we discover an absolute gem. We read something that makes us laugh out loud or weep alongside the characters. We find ourselves living the book even when we should be marking essays, even as we chat about what we're having for dinner (thanks must go to hubby for cooking this evening, recognising my need to get my response to this book in blog form as soon as I have closed the final pages!); in other words, we read a book that makes life seem like a distraction from the real event!
That is why reading is addictive. When Child 1 says that she can't understand why I am prepared to invest so many hours of my life into so many books (I know, I have failed), it is because she hasn't found that experience of totally escaping from the real world for a while and being drawn into another. It is because you need to be patient with the books that are good or good enough, (or let's face it, sometimes not our cup of tea at all...) because you know that sometimes one will come along which has the absolute capacity to change your life, to alter your outlook or challenge your preconceptions. Fiction builds imagination, but more than that, it builds our capacity for human empathy. It can teach us about humanity in all manner of circumstances. Through fiction I have come to know about historical and political fact that I didn't even know I was interested in! Human beings need to tell stories. Stories make sense of a sometimes bewildering world. And sometimes stories leave you feeling raw and exposed as you are drawn so completely into the experience and feelings of another.
So it was with NATHAN FILER's Shock of the Fall. I have had this book on my shelf since 2016, but for some reason have not picked it up to read. It needs to be picked up by all of you. It demands to be read.
The premise of the novel is set out in the blurb, "I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name's 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."
This hook is undoubtedly emotional, and the novel remains utterly human throughout. The story is told through the first person narration of Matthew Homes. He is an unreliable narrator with some of his account told in fragments that do not reach full completion until later in the plot. Some of the story is told in retrospect and other parts are in the present. We are not necessarily told which is which, but the writing makes it easy to navigate. The compulsion created by the hook is retained by the gradual unfolding of a story. It is not a thriller, but there are questions that need to be answered and there is just the right amount of tension and suspense to keep you turning those pages.
As the blurb suggests, the key event that causes this story is the death of Matthew's brother Simon. Matthew was only 6 at the time, and so it is understandable that his memories of the death of his brother maybe blurred. He writes from the point of view of a 19 year old, attempting to comprehend the effect of this tragedy on his family.
I love the title of this book. It has connotations of sin and guilt when considered against the biblical fall into sin; it also suggests aftershock following trauma and has implications of shock-waves that resound long after the initial disturbance has taken place. All of these have a place in the interpretation of this novel.
However, the book is not bleak. At times you will laugh. At times you will be moved to tears. But this book is hopeful. It gives insight into grief, into love and into mental health. It ends well, though in some ways it doesn't end at all. Anyone who has ever lost someone, especially out of the natural order, will know that grief is always there; it just becomes a bit easier to hold with time.
Matthew's family are beautifully crafted. We get to know his Mum, Dad and Nanny-Noo intimately, despite their relatively little page space. And I think this is the genius of Nathan Filer. He gets people. He knows what we need to know about them to make them real. Mum's little yellow pills, Dad's special handshake and Nanny Noo's desire to feed everyone make them into familiar characters from our own lives. An inconsequential event on a family holiday that leads to Dad calling Matthew "mon ami" forevermore will ring true with so many other family traditions that begin out of seemingly nothing. And it is these seemingly nothing things that make up a happy, thriving family.
This book celebrates family whilst examining one that has been torn apart, It celebrates life in the midst of death and it celebrates triumph over adversity without ever becoming trite. The latter triumph is even one that is celebrated with caution, recognising that further adversity will inevitably follow and that life is never ever plain sailing.
This book won Costa Book of the Year in 2013,along with The National Book Award for Popular Fiction, The Betty Trask Prize and The Writer's Guild Award for Best First Novel. It certainly gets my award for being the best book I have read this year.
So, keep reading...and if you haven't found your book of the year, start with this one. Who knows, even Child 1 might be inspired......