The Shock of the Fall is a caustically funny yet empathetic portrayal of mental illness
It's fairly safe to say that few people expected Nathan Filer – a former mental health nurse and author of one novel, The Shock of the Fall – to win the Costa Book of the Year Award. Not because he doesn't deserve it, but because some of his competitors were such known quantities. Fans of Kate Atkinson's novel, Life After Life, had long complained that her book had been overlooked by all the major prize juries, and were holding out for this last award. Lucy Hughes-Hallett's biography of Gabriele d'Annunzio had already won the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. Michael Symmons Roberts had won the Forward Prize with his latest poetry collection, Drysalter. Few first novelists ever win the overall Costa Prize, simply because they are, for the most part, up against such experienced hands. The last time a first novel won the award was eight years ago.
And yet Filer's extraordinarily assured and haunting book has overcome the odds. In doing so, it joins a distinguished library of books that have taken madness as their topic. Shell shock, drug-induced hallucinations, post-natal depression have all been the subject of famous works of literature. And two years ago, Will Self wrote a virtuosic novel that used the experiences of patients in a mental hospital as a way of breaking down traditional forms of narrative. Indeed, to countless writers interested in new ways to tell a story, the fractured human mind has offered a new possible logic.