Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Mini Reviews: Mental Health in March

Completely unintentionally, March ended up being a month spent reading novels about mental health issues. First I caved to peer pressure and read The Shock of the Fall (I think Hanna's tactics of persuasion did the trick), and then I moved on to Perfect by Rachel Joyce (this time encouraged by Charlotte's review). 

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

This is narrated by Matt Homes, a 19 year old schizophrenic, who is conducting his own version of writing therapy. Matt is riddled with guilt for an accident that caused the death of his older brother during a camping holiday when they were children. The circumstances of this accident are not revealed until the end when the reader has already been on an incredibly gripping and heart wrenching journey through Matt's life - his past and his present. I couldn't bear to put this down once I'd started it and I would highly recommend it to anyone (and everyone). Matt's narrative is unreliable but he is perhaps the most loveable narrator I have read in a while. You know when you just want to reach in and help them out? Yes, that's how I felt reading this.

I think I missed out on a bit of the reading experience by using my kindle as the book itself is filled with doodles and typographical details. Perhaps it's one to add to my collection at some point - the cover is a beauty after all.

Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Perfect is such a, well, perfect follow-up novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It is much darker, more honest and raw at times but it is equally as hopeful and uplifting to read. The novel opens with Byron Hemmings, the main character, worrying about an extra two seconds being added to the clock (the earth is out of kilter with time). His anxiety about this event and when it will happen threatens to overcome Byron and leads to an astonishing series of events. As well as the health issues, Perfect also addresses the issue of class and how dangerous class distinctions can be if dealt with wrongly.

There is a second narrative strand to this novel which tells the story of Jim, a former psychiatric patient, and his growing relationship with Eileen. The two strands come together in such a brilliant way that merges past and present and reveals things previously hidden. Let me just say that I finished the book as I walked home from the tube station (nearly falling over on more than one occasion) because I just could not wait to eat up those final few pages.

As much as both of these books made me cry, I don't think I can say that these books are particularly similar in scope, resonance or characterisation. They share a similar subject matter - mental health - and I found reading both together was quite an educational experience. I will hold up my hand and be the first to admit that I am sorely ill-informed when it comes to mental health. These novels went some way to rectify that and, though I am still ill-informed, I feel like I get more of a sense of the variations of mental illness and what it can do to a person. 

Have you read either of these? Was it an emotional experience for you too?!



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5 comments

  1. What a lovely post. I haven't read either of those but would like, especially The Shock of the Fall. Talking about mental issues and emotional experiences though, Jan's currently reading Flowers for Algernon, which must be the most emotion-triggering book I've ever read. The main character Charly has some mental issues, and one of the books topics is how people can treat those who are maybe a bit more gullible or not the brightest tools in the box.

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    1. Thank you :) I really would recommend both, though out of the two, The Shock of the Fall had more impact for me. I just googled Flowers for Algernon (I knew the name but nothing else) and it looks fascinating. I will have to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  2. I tend to stay away with books that have mental health as a theme. I've had mental health issues on and off since I was about 11, and sometimes I feel as though it's the last thing I want to read about! Perfect does sound interesting though.

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  3. BTW - My Jules Verne review is up....

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