Best Book on Mental Health 2013: The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

The Shock of the Fall (Where the Moon Isn't) and mental health
The Shock of the Fall, one of my favourite
novels on mental health. Image source.

It’s hard to believe this is a first novel – it’s so good it will make you feel a better person. – The judges of the 2013 Costa award on The Shock of the Fall.

I wasn’t planning on writing up my thoughts on The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer just yet, despite reading it a few months ago and thoroughly enjoying it, particularly the theme of mental health and schizophrenia within the novel. However, the wonderful debut novel has won the Costa first novel award, and I feel now is a better time than any to encourage you all to read it.

Nathan Filer, 32, is a registered mental health nurse, but he’s also an incredibly talented writer. Lucky for us, Filer combines his knowledge of mental health with his creative writing ability in The Shock of the Fall (previous title, Where the Moon Isn’t), and we’re left with a deeply emotional and meaningful first novel.

In the novel, meet Matthew Holmes, a nineteen-year-old struggling with memories, voices and the battle going on inside his head. You’ll also meet Simon, his brother, and find out why he’s so close to Matthew’s heart as he passes in and out psychiatric units.
The narrative coherency changes with Matthew’s state of mind, and the metafictional nature of the novel leaves us often questioning Matthew’s reliability as sharer of the story. The novel, like the reality of the theme of mental health behind it, is deeply real, and Filer’s approach is so tactful, thought-provoking and sensitively done. 

“It’s a story about a family coming to terms with grief and it is a character study of Matthew Holmes and one of the things about him is that he’s got schizophrenia. But it’s not a novel about schizophrenia and it’s not a novel about the NHS,” said the author.

You can’t read the novel without thinking about these things; they’re simply so close to the story’s heart. However, I don’t believe a novel has to be directly about mental health for it to help us through our own mental health issues and help others with theirs. That’s not how my view of bibliotherapy works.

Simply put, The Shock of the Fall has helped me to better understand schizophrenia and deteriorations of mental health, but it’s also got me thinking about recovery. Most of all, the novel has left me with some deeply memorable characters, friendships, and beautiful writing.

The Shock of the Fall was named as one of five category winners for the Costas and will go forward to compete for the overall book of the year prize, to be decided later this month. Also going forward is Kate Atkinson, having won the novel award for Life After Life. All the best to Filer and Atkinson!

It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at

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