Write about a fictional book or movie character that represents mental illness well.
The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer
When I read this prompt, I knew immediately I had to write about Matthew Homes in ‘The Shock Of The Fall’ by Nathan Filer. This is one of the most heartbreaking novels I’ve ever read. It’s Filer’s debut, and he has done an extraordinary job of creating a character who stays with the reader long after they finish reading his words.
Matthew is a nineteen year old schizophrenic, and this book is narrated through a series of typed and handwritten accounts of Matthew’s life. He flits from childhood to present day, to time spent in psychiatric wards, and the disorder with which he writes—actually—with great clarity is really clever. The book uses different formats and fonts throughout and even includes drawings which Matthew has done. These varying styles follow the ups and downs of Matthew’s mental illness. They reflect the constant turmoil of his mind. In addition, the chapters are all relatively short, which kind of shows his short attention span.
“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 is at the start of the book. Upon reading this, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop reading. And I didn’t.
The book follows Matthew from the heartbreaking accident at the seaside, where his older brother who has special needs tragically dies. Matthew blames himself, and the trigger for his illness is flicked. We see his difficult teenage years, when he fights with his parents all the time. As he gets older, his mother is a fusser. She doesn’t stop talking, but it’s all pointless. His father withdraws and doesn’t speak to him. The family is broken because of the accident at the beach and, increasingly, because of Matthew’s erratic behaviour.
The one constant in his life is his Nan (Nanny Noo). Their relationship is beautiful. She checks on him every week. She isn’t afraid of or in denial of his mental illness. She accepts him and loves him, and it’s the most touching relationship. It’s Nanny Noo who gives him the type writer on which he begins to write his story. He wants to write it in an attempt to gain some kind of order in his life, in an attempt to understand what is happening to him.
Here’s another quote from the book: “I have an illness, a disease with the shape and sound of a snake. Whenever I learn something new it learns it too…………………..My illness knows everything I know.”
It’s interesting to see how much less coherent Matthew becomes as his illness deteriorates. Simon (his brother) is always with him, in his head. He talks to him a lot. This relationship is more real, in a way, than those with his one friend and parents. Those relationships aren’t trustworthy. But Simon is.
The thing that struck me the most about the narrative is how innocent and child-like Matthew is. Whilst at the same time being capable of great rage. The reader feels protective toward him, and we desperately want him to get better. But that’s not how it works. Schizophrenia is a lifelong illness, a lifelong struggle, and the author leaves the reader with this knowledge. Matthew can’t be fixed overnight, and he knows and accepts this.
It is just so moving. (Did I say that already?) The author, Nathan Filer, is a qualified psychiatric nurse with lots of experience of working with psychiatric patients. This experience he has gives him first-hand knowledge of how mental illness affects a sufferer and their loved ones. We see the pain for both the patient and his family. But, in the end, it’s Matthew who carries this book. His accounts of life are disturbing, unsettling. But he is so endearing. This book really tugged at my heart. I first read it a couple of years ago, and it’s stayed with me ever since. It’s definitely not a book to read if you want to be uplifted. It’s a book that makes you think. It makes you feel. It’s just brilliant.