by Nathan Filer
The Borough Press: £14.29 hardback; £7.99 paperback, 2014
Review by Jim Killgore, publications editor, MDDUS
A FORMER mental health nurse, Nathan Filer, won the Costa Book of the Year for his debut novel – and well deserved it is. Narrated by 19-year-old Matt Homes, this haunting tale is a vivid account of developing schizophrenia but with a voice that is caustic, witty and heart-breaking in turn – at times not unlike Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye.
“I have an illness, a disease with the shape and sound of a snake. Whenever I learn something new, it learns it too … My illness knows everything I know. This was a difficult thing to get my head around.”
The story centres on the tragic death of the narrator’s sweet and much loved older brother Simon, who has Down’s syndrome. It devastates his family and Matt feels terrible guilt over his brother but for reasons not completely apparent until near the end of the novel. Over the course of the story he circles the truth while also offering a sharp perspective on a mental health system which he sometimes hates yet relies on.
One telling episode, among others, is when Matt asks to look up a medical term about his brother and a student social worker panics “as if the Nursing Dictionary contains all the secrets that patients aren’t allowed to know.” An occupational therapist named Steve tosses the book to Matt who observes:
“The really funny thing is that Steve made that little clicking noise with his tongue, and winked at me, as if to show that he was on my side or something. Except you’re not on my side, are you Steve? Because if you were on my side you just would have handed me the dictionary like a grown-up... But that is what these people do – the Steves of this world – they all try and make something out of nothing. And they all do it for themselves.”
Many such uncomfortable truths are exposed and with bitter humour. Highly recommended.