The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer: Achingly Poignant Mental Illness Portrayal

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The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer Book Cover Image


Category: Literary fiction

Format: Paperback (borrowed from library)

Content Warnings: Death of family member, grief, drug abuse, mental illness (depression/anxiety/schizophrenia) and institutionalisation, references to self harm. Please note that The Shock of the Fall also contains active suicidal ideation so use caution if you are sensitive to this topic.


The Shock of the Fall begins with nine-year-old Matthew experiencing a tragedy which he cannot tell us about. It’s just too painful. For the rest of the story, we follow him through the years of childhood, adolescence and into his first grimy flat and minimum-wage job.

All the while, Matthew’s grasp of reality fragments as he struggles to come to terms with what happened that fateful night on the coast.


First Chapter Impressions

It’s been a very long time since a book has gripped me so quickly from the beginning! Filer makes use of a unique structure and multiple formats, as the narrator Matthew fights to tell us his fragmented story.

This unusual structure gave a real intensity and urgency to the narration – it feels that we are on a journey with Matthew, trying to make sense of events alongside him.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer Book Review Pinterest Graphic

Final Page Reflections

The Shock of the Fall belongs to the same category as most of my favourite books: achingly emotional and moving, not afraid to confront the darkest facets of life but also reminding us of our shared humanity, and people’s unfailing ability to amaze and surprise us. The kind of book that makes you feel like a different person when you finish it.

Filer’s beautiful writing style is a particular highlight, managing to see the magic in the everyday without being overly sentimental.

“You only really know what a smile means when you own the face behind it. Everyone else just sees the smile they expect it to be.”

~ Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall


The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer Mood Analysis

Diversity and Representation

The Shock of the Fall was our book club pick for a mental health awareness-themed month. Filer works as as mental health nurse so it feels as though he has authority on the subject and a genuine desire to build understanding, rather than just exploiting a particular narrative.

This story also refuses to make simplifications – from profanity to moments of profound insight, all of these snapshots form part of Matthew’s complex experiences.

A balance struck between darkness and wry humour (which Matthew uses as a coping strategy) allowed the novel to starkly confront the horror of mental illness without feeling entirely void of hope.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer Quote


  • Mental health
  • Grief
  • Family
  • Storytelling
  • Memory
  • Institutionalisation

Beyond the Book

In our book club discussion, we agreed that, while the representation of mental illness in books is important, its even more important that its done sensitively. For this reason, we appreciated the author’s background in mental health nursing, as this made Matthew’s experiences feel authentic.

Is there possibly a risk of mental illness themes and narratives being exploited for the purposes of plot?

Discussion Questions

1. Do you agree that authors writing about mental illness should have some form of experience or authority, to avoid potentially exploitative narratives?

2. I really enjoyed the unusual structure of The Shock of the Fall, it added intensity and urgency to the story. What did you make of it – did it enhance your connection with our narrator Matthew?

3. Which side characters did you find most sympathetic or unsympathetic?

Favourite quote:

“Mental illness turns people inwards. That’s what I reckon. It keeps us forever trapped by the pain of our own minds”

~ Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall

Read if: You want to be turned into an emotional wreck by this achingly poignant portrayal of mental illness.

Buy Now from Better World Books:

The Shock of the Fall

Have you read The Shock of The Fall? Know any other books with sensitive mental illness representation that I can read next? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!

11 thoughts on “The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer: Achingly Poignant Mental Illness Portrayal”

  1. Yes I agree writers should tread carefully when highlighting mental illness in their fiction. Some psychological or psychiatric training would probably be useful, or at the very least, writers should be thoroughly researching by engaging with people who are living with the mental illnesses being explored, provided of course that people are comfortable and willing to discuss their experiences. Thanks for another thought provoking review. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the kind words Alyson! I very much agree that writers need to be very sensitive when writing about these topics – training and/or engagement with people who have experience with mental illness is definitely important X x x


  2. Brilliant review, Florence! 🥰 This one does sound incredibly powerful and raw, but also one that discusses some very important topics. I think it is essential that writers do their research and take care when exploring the subject of mental health.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words Stephen! 🥰It’s definitely a really powerful read and it made me laugh in places too which is a really hard balance to strike! And I completely agree that writers need to be really responsible when tackling sensitive topics X x x

      Liked by 1 person

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