book club, review

Book Club #1 – The Shock Of The Fall

When I was still working in internal communications at the company I work for, we were always coming up with ideas to get employees involved and have fun (as well as work hard, of course!). Being part of the social committee means that I get to do a lot of cool stuff at work, like food/drink tasting for parties, or organising competitions, even if that means I generally cannot participate in the competitions myself…

One day, a colleague in the social committee came up with the idea of creating a book club, and I volunteered to help. The book club is available to anyone in the company, regardless of where they’re based. They can have face-to-face meetings in their office, or join an online discussion on the intranet. I think it’s a great idea, and I’m quite involved in it (so far, since my colleague is pretty busy, I’m organising most of it! I’m not complaining, I like it!).

I love hearing people are reading the books, even if they’re then too shy or too busy to attend the meetings. The point is to read, right?

So far, we’ve done two books already, and I thought it would be a great idea to do some review here too. Don’t get me wrong, chances are that I’ll get bored after a couple of books and I won’t write about them anymore, or maybe I will, I don’t know yet, so basically, don’t expect this to be a long lasting feature just yet, just in case. Since we’re holding meetings on the last Wednesday of each month, you should expect this to be a monthly feature. However, to catch up, I’ll do two of them this month, and book three’s review will be shared in time for the next meeting.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: spoilers. There will be plenty of spoilers in each post, so if you haven’t read the book yet and spoilers are something that bothers you, then don’t read the post until after you’ve finished reading. Everyone will be happy!

I’m not an expert, I hated studying literature, and I probably will miss a lot of important details that you would think I should have mentioned or analysed. I’m just a person who loves reading, so bear with me. If you have comments to add, or think it’s a great topic or something, just join in the comments at the bottom of each book review.

Sounds like fun? Great! Let’s start then!

Book #1 – The Shock Of The Fall, by Nathan Filer

The first book was chosen based on the fact that Nathan Filer isn’t such a well-known author (he probably will be, or is at the time of posting this, he’s won a Costa Award and everything), and that one of the organisers was already reading it. When I read the description, I found it interesting.

The Shock Of The Fall is about Matthew, a guy who suffers from schizophrenia. Very early on he speaks about his illness as a snake. My guess is that not only the name sounds like hissing, but also because it can go unnoticed and crawl its way inside your mind. He is very aware of his illness, and mentions it early on. He also mentions very early on that his brother Simon is dead at the time of writing, so that’s a bit of a teaser for quite a big part of the story.

The book is written as Matthew thinks or rather, as he remembers, jumbled, jumping around the timeline without an order or even without much sense. It took me a bit to get into the story (and by a bit, I mean maybe a few pages), but the way of writing appealed to me. It’s my way of thinking, minus the mental illness, so it felt quite right.

When I opened the book, I didn’t really know anything about schizophrenia, other than it’s a mental illness in which patients feel some sort of disconnection with reality. This is obviously not entirely correct, and the book helped me broaden my understanding. I, of course, realise that this is a book and not an extensive paper describing all different situations or patients, but it definitely helped me realise there’s more to it than I thought.

The font in the book changes, depending on whether Matthew is at a health centre writing from a computer, or at home writing on a typewriter. That’s another appealing aspect of the book, it’s visual impact.

One of my colleagues mentioned that he saw the book as a coming of age one, as maturing and becoming an adult, only Matthew is never a real adult in the sense that he cannot take care of himself, because he never is fully in control (he skips his treatment and goes missing at some point). The story tells us how everything is alright with this family, parents, Matthew and older brother Simon, who has Down syndrome. Then, one day, something happens and Simon dies, and nothing is ever the same.

For me, the part that had the biggest impact, or the biggest shock, was the relationship with his parents, how his mum completely withdrew and sort of lost it when Simon died. How she was unable to cope with it and took refuge in her relationship with Matthew, overprotecting him. The endless trips to the doctor, the taking him away from school, but then forcing him to walk in front of it at recess time. It shocked me to see how a person who is supposed to be in charge of a child, nurture them and protect them, could become unable to perform their duty because of loss and sadness.

Matthew grows up and becomes more responsible, and then loses that maturity again, continuously during the book. He leaves home and rents a flat with a friend, and then loses contact with him and withdraws himself when his friend leaves. He is one of the normal ones in the health centre, he doesn’t fight or doesn’t soil himself, he writes; but he also is difficult sometimes, asking what his medicines are for every time.

One of the times, he insists he needs to go to his flat to pick some important stuff, and it was revealing that he went to grab a football T-shirt for another patient, who had had an episode and had had his favourite T-shirt broken.

I think those smaller details are the ones that describe the illness better, the fact that he knows he’s sick, and that he knows he should take the medication, but he is still able to function, in general terms, as a human being.

When he’s building his project, for his brother, we are shown a bit of the ugly part of his illness, his being disconnected from reality. He wants to speak to Simon, and he wants to bring him back, so he creates his project at home, which I’m still a bit unclear of what it was exactly, but I’m going to go with some sort of ant farm, or something. His nan visits him and is shocked and disgusted at it, because the place is full of rubbish. She gets so sad because Matthew believes it’s important and needs to do it, no matter what.

We find out what happened to Simon towards the end of the book. The guilt of that night is present every time Matthew mentions his brother or what happened, but it’s only when he tells us the story that we understand why.

In the end, Matthew doesn’t get magically healed, not everything is alright. Life just goes on. He will have his good and his bad moments, but he can only try his best.

When I started reading the book, I thought the title was about falling into this mental illness, maybe little by little, maybe all at once. However, by the time I finished it, I realised it’s more about how little time we have, and how we need to make the most of it, because it can be taken away from us all of a sudden, any time.

It’s a great book, and unexpected. I have to say I was crying like a baby towards the end, because it also is about loving who you are, learning to accept yourself and your mistakes, and the people around you, and growing with what you have, and finally moving on. All the scene around Simon’s memorial, made me very emotional.

I still don’t know much about schizophrenia, or mental illnesses in general, but this book made me look inwards. There were a few sentences that resonated with me, that made me think (for example, when he talks about his first memory ever…) but the truth is that many of us know very little about our own minds. We all have secrets and darkness in our minds, and for the most of the time, we manage to keep them at bay, usually by ignoring these thoughts and thinking happy things. Personally, I know that I can spiral down pretty easily if I start looking inwards, so I tend to look anywhere but.

The system, as described in the book, is actually failing these patients. Maybe from lack of funding, or from government apathy, but it’s just the individuals that are able to make an impact on patients, if any at all, by kind words, or by lending an ear to listen to problems. There isn’t much that can be done at the moment, for example, when Matthew receives several letters telling him he’s missing his medication. A letter does nothing. Of course, you can’t just enter someone’s house, barging in, and take them by force just because they missed an appointment to take a tablet, but the truth is that a letter is going to do very little to make that person go back to a treatment.

I know I’m probably quite naive in how many aspects of the world work, but I’d like to think at least I ask questions about it, and I wonder why things are the way they are. I think mental illnesses are still treated as a shameful condition that we need to hide so that people don’t talk or whisper, but that’s only adding more fuel to the issue. As a society, we need to be able to talk about the things we don’t want to see in order to fix them. This book is probably not going to change how the system works, but it has made me think as an individual.

Have you read this book? What did you think about it? Maybe you found a different meaning… Would you like to share your thoughts?

The next book I’ll be posting about is Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman. I’m aiming to publish the post on the 19th December, so you have some time if you want to give it a try (I believe it reads fast, although I’ve been told otherwise).