Book Review: The Shock of the Fall
Published by The Borough Press
‘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.’
Meet Matt. Matt has schizophrenia, and he’s about to tell you about how he lives with it. When Matt was a child, his older brother died, and things changed quite drastically after that. In a rapid, stream-of-conscious narrative, Matt takes you through his past; from here, to there, from now, until then. In staccato chapters of muddled scenes, we are led through with wit, fear, and icy candour.
There is something a little Catcher in the Rye about The Shock of the Fall. The structure of the narrative is as distinct a voice and deconstructed a plot, but with half the “phonies”. I was never a huge fan of Catcher, but this feels quite different. Matt is a much nicer protagonist, for a start. You warm to him quickly and stay with him throughout.
As unreliable narrators go, this is a pretty extreme one. You’re never sure what has really happened, or if it did, if it happened at that time and in that place. But he is also a desperately loveable character, full of hope, humour, and unerring honesty that casts a tragic eye over this comedy of errors.
I can’t say that this was an entertaining read, because the subject matter (as jovial as the narrative is) simply cannot be considered “entertaining”. But it is a compelling story, with heart and depth; you can see why it won the Costa Book of the Year. It’s entirely readable, heartwarming and clever.
At a mere 307 pages (and a hasty read at that), this book is not a particularly long-lasting story, but it’s one to have an impact. Matt’s voice is a distinctive one and the world he describes is crystal clear. The only thing I wasn’t sure about what the interjections of sketches and notes like “PLEASE STOP READING OVER MY SHOULDER”, meant to give a nod towards ‘current’ events and make you join Matt in the process of writing. To me, this feels too much like a writerly flourish – of a ‘hey, look at what I can do, aren’t I clever’ tactic that (for me) falls flat more often than adds to the narrative. It takes me out of the story, reminds me I’m reading a book, and once you remember you’re reading a book, you’re not actually involved in the story any more.
Overall, it is a great story, but once the book has been put down, it fades, and it becomes another book your sort of remember reading, and enjoying, but not one to rate in the Top Ten Best Books Ever.