After winning the Costa ‘Best First Novel’ Award at the end of last year, there has been a lot of talk and praise around this book. That was one thing that made me want to read this but also the subject matter of mental health was another factor that made this book a must read for me. I must admit I don’t usually venture looking into new authors as often as I should, preferring to stick to authors I already know and love by visiting their back catalogue of books. But in this case Nathan Filer and his first novel was one that I could not ignore and I am more than glad that I didn’t.
The story centres around Matthew, his brother dies when he is a child and throughout the whole book you get the feeling that he feels very responsible for this almost like he is blaming himself but it is not until the final third of the novel that you find out a) what happened and b) why he feels so guilty about his death. Matthew is suffering from schizophrenia and it is in his late teens when he starts to see his brother everywhere, believing that he is still alive and they can be together again to play forever.
This is when he ends up in a mental hospital but with a mental health system that doesn’t necessarily work for him. Instead he decides to use his old typewriter his Nan gives to him and uses it to conduct his own sort of writing therapy. He is writing this novel from the first person as a 19 year old taking you back through his life, the times when his brother Simon was still alive and everything was good, the time his brother’s death happened and what has happened to him and his parents ever since that up until the present day. As it is written from Matt’s viewpoint there are different type faces, doodles and time scale variations from look backs to current moment sporadic thoughts giving it a truly authentic diary style to the book.
I’ll not ruin the story or the ending for you but what I can say is that this is a truly tragic story of a boy lost in the world, the mental health system and his own thoughts. It is written so wonderfully giving you get a real insight into mental health, what it is like to suffer from schizophrenia and what that means for the way you are treat by family, friends and society.
After reading this novel I can see exactly why it won that Costa Award, it is so well written and so deeply moving that you would assume this was from a more accomplished writer than a first time published author. I urge you to all go out buy this book and read it straight away, it is absolutely brilliant and at just over 300 pages you will have it read in no time, I know I did. A must read novel from an author that has shown a lot of promise on his first outing.