Matthew Homes is a 19-year old schizophrenic and, as he points out: ‘I’m a mental patient, not an idiot’. Told in his own words, the book describes Matthew’s attempts to live within the confines that his illness places upon him. Desperate to get away from home, Matt takes on a flat with a friend, but the arrangement doesn’t work out. Left to live independently, his Nanny Noo comes to visit him every week, and the local care in the community support tries to engage Matthew and encourage compliance with his drug regime. Later, sectioned under the Mental Health Act, he spends time confined within a psychiatric ward. This unsettled existence is played out against the backdrop of an earlier incident in his life, when a fatal accident befalls Simon, Matthew’s younger brother. Simon’s voice, and the belief that the siblings are to be reunited, is the soundtrack of Matthew’s inner life.
Although the language used to narrate the book is accessible and typical of a young person, the underlying themes of the book are disturbing. Primary amongst these is the woeful inadequacy of the care offered to Matthew as a result of his illness. I noted that the author is himself a registered mental health nurse and that one of the book’s critics was Jo Brand. Although well-known as a comedienne, Ms Brand’s former career was as a mental health nurse. Her positive endorsement of the book suggests that the descriptions of the time Matthew spends in ‘hospital’ must be indicative of the truth. The days are monotonous, there are no diversions, entertainment or stimuli and he is simply fed drugs at regular intervals. This condemnation of the ‘care’ system is damning.
The ‘Shock of the Fall’ is not a comfortable work, but I recommend it. I couldn’t understand why it had overtaken Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’ in the Costa race – having read them both, I can now.