I first heard of The Shock of the Fall at university. I only got round to reading it last week. And by Jove, it’s good.
A decent way into the book, I was convinced that it wasn’t for me. However, when a handsome chap on the tube asked what I thought of it, I felt like I had to smile and say, “Amazing, yeah”, mainly because of his eyes. But also because everyone had raved about it so much. But yeah, mainly because of his eyes.
So as I continued to wade through conversation after conversation about how great it was, inside I felt confused about why I hadn’t clicked with Matt – the ultimate untrustworthy narrator – and why I was decidedly unbothered about where his journey would take him.
Until about three chapters from the end, where everything clicked for me. I can’t say why it did, but I urge you to read it and find out.
It might not sit comfortably with you at first (because, why should it? it’s a story about mental illness and we’re still not over that taboo just yet) but hold out until it does and it will be worth it. Even for this quote alone:
“‘Really Matt. You’re your own worst enemy.’
That’s a strange thing to say to someone with a serious mental disease. Of course I’m my own worst enemy. That’s the whole problem.”
It’s very difficult for someone who has never suffered from mental illness to really get it. But think of it like this: as humans, we are used to fending off attackers and fighting to survive; it’s in our nature. But what happens when you are fighting with yourself? Not like cancer, where we can zap the bad stuff out and people can see what’s up. But when what you are fighting is inside your head where nobody except you can see it or hear it? I won’t insult those who do suffer by saying that I get it. Because I don’t. But what I will say is that it scares me and I would like to do all I can to at least try to understand it.
Set in Bristol, The Shock of the Fall is a story of guilt, loss and, most importantly, mental illness. Not only does Filer do what Haddon does in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and create a voice for a voice in a head, but he sheds light on the reality of the struggles of someone suffering on a daily basis – from the very real effects of NHS cuts to mistaking a helping hand for something else entirely – a refreshing perspective and far cry from straight jackets and asylums.
Matt’s journey takes us from the point of trauma and ends somewhere between acceptance, freedom and succumbing.
By the final few pages I was sobbing and smiling. And I don’t cry.
Let me know what you think of it. I think it’s great.