“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.”
First published: 2013 [Goodreads]
Ever since I bought The Shock of the Fall a few months ago, people have been asking me how I liked the novel, when they noticed it on my shelf. They’d heard great things about it, and wanted to know what I thought. Up until now I had to say each time that I hadn’t read it yet, so I couldn’t tell them. The fact that people kept asking me about it made me even more curious to read it, though, so in December I finally did.
I’d originally bought this novel because it was “about one man’s descent into mental illness”, and that’s a topic that interests me for various reasons (the gorgeous cover might have something to do with me buying it as well, though…). My expectations were pretty high, and while the novel took a different turn than I expected, I was in no way disappointed.
The Shock of the Fall is the story of nineteen-year-old Matthew Homes, who suffers from a serious mental illness. I’m not going to say what illness this is, because I think part of what makes this novel so intriguing is that it remains unclear for quite a while which disease Matt actually suffers from. While you can make some guesses throughout the story, Matt doesn’t actually tell us for a long time. I think this omission of “what the thing is” fits in with the theme of mental illness very well. It represents the uncertainty that comes with mental illness, and the fact that it’s often difficult to diagnose.
Matt tells his story looking back on everything that happened after his brother Simon died when Matt was nine years old. He constantly reminds us that this is his story, and he can only present reality as he sees it, thereby emphasising that he is an unreliable narrator. They don’t come much more unreliable than this, but I kept forgetting that throughout the story, because Matt is (or seems) so sincere in everything he writes. Besides that, there’s also so much truth in some of his statements:
“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.
The topic of this novel is very heavy, and there were times when I had to put the book down for a little while because I was starting to feel a bit too sad. Matt’s situation seems sort of hopeless at times, and that feeling of hopelessness sometimes got a bit too much for me. Plus, the grief of Matt and his family for Simon is very poignant as well. I still finished the book within a week, though, because it is really good.
Although I’m no expert, I thought The Shock of the Fall does a great job at portraying this mental disease. Matt isn’t defined by his illness — he’s a funny and smart guy with some really sharp observations — but the disease does cripple him, which is sad, but also the tough truth. What I found especially striking was that some chapters or parts of the story end very abruptly, because Matt doesn’t feel up to writing it anymore. This really made me feel like I was actually reading something that Matt, this fictional character, had written himself.
I would really recommend reading The Shock of the Fall, especially to anyone who’s interested in stories about mental illness, because this is an amazing novel. Sad and hard hitting, but amazing.