The Shock of the Fall

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Nathan writes with a keen sense of observation, that make a person, a situation, an emotion, real. He manages to focus on the tiny details, both internal and external, that often seem inconsequential but become an important part of the experiencing of the character. At the beginning of the story our protagonist ends up on the ground with a girl he has just met, falling on top of her while reaching out to comfort her. He describes her turning her head and one of her hairs trailing across his lips and tongue. It is that kind of simplicity that puts flesh on the bones of the people in the story.

The writing is both delicate and substantial; putting things very simply at times, yet very powerfully. His sensitivity in describing mental illness shines through and, by the time I was most of the way through the book, I felt I had some understanding of what the central character was experiencing.

This felt like a story written from the heart. The author used to be a mental health nurse and manages to put across some very poignant points about the treatment of people with mental illness. He describes the hospital ward office and all the mugs, clocks, mouse mats, and pens that are adorned with the names of the medication the patients hate. Drug reps may have a job to do but it implies an insensitivity on the part of hospital staff that they allow the clinical aspect to creep insidiously into the treatment place. Patients have enough to remind them of their illness without emblazoning the day-to-day and the ordinary with more reminders.

I started this book mid-morning and couldn’t put it down. I had to stop to do other things otherwise I might have read it all in one go. As it is I picked it up the following day and finished it in one more sitting – in tears by the end.

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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A delicately and masterfully crafted book. Unbelievable that this is Anthony Marra’s first novel. His writing hooked me in from the beginning and immersed me in his character’s lives effortlessly. The attention to life’s details is extraordinary and the reality he creates leaps from the page in a picture more vivid than I have read for some time. He manages to convey much with very few words. Not a sentence is wasted and it shows throughout the entire book.

I felt I had been through an emotional wringer by the time I finished reading and I’m glad I took the journey. The story is at once heartbreaking and uplifting and I defy you not to cry at the closing lines.

Why it didn’t win the National Book Award I’ll never know. Anthony Marra deserves to win prizes for his writing. He has far to go and I, for one, will be keeping track of him to see what wonders he comes up with next.

Reading and Writing

I seem to have been reading avidly recently. One good book after another. After almost nodding off in front of the TV last night I went to bed and then decided to dip into ‘Mr. Rosenblum’s List’ by Natasha Solomons before I went off to sleep proper. With only one-and-a-half chapters to go I could surely read a bit and then finish it today.

Not likely!

I began to cry half-way through chapter 8 and then sobbed and laughed my way through chapter 9 to the postscript at the end. You’ll have to read it to see what I’m talking about, but item 151 on ‘Jack Rose-in-bloom’s’ list had me sobbing and laughing at the same time. The duvet got wet and I used the t-shirt I’d been wearing yesterday to mop my face and blow my nose. I had to come downstairs at 2:30 this morning and drink warm milk with mixed spice and eat custard creams before I could go back to bed.

The more reading I do the more I want to write. I’ve written short stories over the years but mainly for my own benefit and sometimes for my friend’s children, but I’ve never written anything seriously – apart from this blog (and that’s been intermittent).

I latched onto the title ‘The Silent Sun’ for some reason and began to write down some thoughts. The title has a feeling about it that I can’t describe at the moment. Keywords might be: observer; warm; mirage; sunrise/beginning; sunset/ending; relentless; oppressive; refreshing; life-giving.

The theme so far seems to be about family; perhaps because it is a subject that has so much meaning to me at the moment. I also want to inject a sense of mystery into it and I have a glimmer of an idea. So far the story seems to be writing itself, so I may just go along with it and continue writing and see where it leads me.

The scary bit is the amount of time an author can take to write a book – years in some cases – but considering I’ve been thinking about this for some years without doing anything about it, I might as well persevere and see where the next couple of years takes me and the story.

Reading & Meditation

I’ve just managed to hear the last part of Open Book on Radio 4. It seems I’ll have to wait a while for it to be available on iPlayer. Mariella Frostrup was talking to Edmund White and it was interesting to hear him say that part of him would have liked to have settled down and to have had children. Coming from a gay writer it’s nice to know I’m not alone in that sentiment.

Listening to the programme made me realise how little I’ve read lately and some of what the act of reading means to me. I’ve loved reading since I can remember. My mother always encouraged it and I could read very well by the time I started school. I would often take home the book that was being read in class and finish it at home that day, eager for the next book and impatient that I would have to go over it again and again. In hindsight, this allowed me to learn more and more about the language I use, and the subtleties of language used in any written work.

My English teacher in senior school encouraged me to look at what I was reading even more. Through him I learnt that Shakespeare and Chaucer weren’t just old writers who didn’t make any sense, they were accomplished authors who managed to convey a great deal in the language they used.

Reading is another way of looking at the world. The use of words that sometimes have little to do with the subject matter can vividly describe the subject matter itself. Poetry is a classic example of this. Reading and writing helps expand the mind, opening it out like a flower to encompass experiences and situations that I have no knowledge of and allowing me to grasp what they might feel like and look like.

Writing is the same. I must think about how I am going to describe a thing or a situation in a way that others will begin to grasp my meaning. This necessitates analysing something to find the deeper meaning in order to be able to describe it. This exercises the mind. As with physical exercise our brains need exercising too. This is what keeps us fit, healthy and strong.

So, reading and writing help us to learn about ourselves and the world around us. They promote conversation, bring people together, and stimulate our minds. They are the stuff that anarchy, religion, philosophy and science are born of – and give birth to. 

Reading must also have a physical effect. I can laugh and cry at a story or written account and I can feel enormously happy or incredibly sad or angry. While I am reading something these emotions are very real in the experiencing, even though the situation is artificial. It is well known that emotions have a physical effect on the body and mind because of the production of hormones and chemicals.

I saw a programme on TV a while back that explored what reading can do to somebody’s brain. For a process that is not naturally learned, like speech and walking, it has an enormous effect. It exercises and increases memory, brings about empathy through glimpses into other people’s lives – however real or fictional, and it encourages a continuation of learning through trying to grasp the meaning of what is written.

Apart from reporting on the experiments carried out on the brain, the programme talked to people who were formally illiterate, or who may have not read much in their lives. Once they had found the right encouragement they began to read more avidly. All the things I have mentioned above were increased after time. One chap, a formal criminal, had even said that the more reading he did the more it made him think about the effect his former actions had on the people he carried out crimes against – something that had never entered his mind before. A clear example of empathy.