Sunday, March 23, 2014

Where the Moon Isn't by Nathan Filer (2013)

Our latest Debbie Downer book club read (for which, as you might remember, we only read depressing books) is Where the Moon Isn't by Nathan Filer (2013) [published as The Shock of the Fall in the UK].

Our narrator is Matthew, a schizophrenic young man in Bristol, England.When Matthew was a child, he and his older brother Simon, who had Down Syndrome, snuck out of their family's vacation rental late at night. Matthew deliberately scares his brother who ends up having a tragic accident and dying.

Fast-forward ten years and Matthew is under professional care. He is alternately committed to a mental hospital or living on his own but coming into a day program for therapy, activities, and his mandated medication. Before he was hospitalized he had moved out of his parents house into his own apartment and then quickly started hearing his brother Simon talking to him. This escalated into a full-blown obsessive crazy person scenario that ultimately resulted in Matthew's hospitalization.

The book we are reading is the book Matthew is writing from the computer at the hospital day center and, when he goes off his meds and holes up in his apartment, from the typewriter that his grandmother gave him. The book uses different fonts to indicate the different writing locales and intersperses handwritten letters from Matthew's social worker and drawings that he creates to illustrate his story. I can't quite decide if I liked the conceit of the different fonts or found it distracting -- it really rides the line -- but I did like the construct of the book and the way that Matthew's narrative voices changes as his mental health ebbs and flows. The movement between the present and the past and his slow movement to describing the accident with his brother and the aftermath of his psychotic break are well timed and effective.

Filer worked as a mental health nurse for ten years before writing this book, and that experience combined with the energy of the story resulted in a lot of excitement for this debut novel. Multiple publishing houses entered into a bidding war that increased publicity for the book before it even came out, and Filer went on to win awards a lot of favorable reviews for his work.

This is definitely a strong debut novel and Filer's decade-long experience as a mental health nurse has given him a unique perspective on his subject matter. That being said, I'm not sure it lives up to its bidding war / award winning hype. Still, this is a fast and unique read and worth your time.

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