When reading at the weekend, I have some rules – I can read before getting up, but must not sit down with it again until after lunch. With this wonderful book, I tore up the rulebook and read it in one glorious sitting.
I was absolutely fascinated by this story narrated by Matthew Homes, a teenager suffering with mental illness in the wake of the sudden death of his brother Simon. For a difficult read in terms of subject matter, this is an easy and flowing read – a strange comment maybe, with the fragmented time frame, the different typefaces, and the dips into and out of Matt’s mental illness, but it was all accomplished so effortlessly. There are lovely touches of humour, acute observations about life and human behaviour, and a set of exceptionally well drawn subsidiary characters.
I particularly liked Matt’s parents – the tableau presented of them sitting as a family watching Eastenders, the father’s awkwardness with his “mon ami” greeting and secret handshake, and the mother’s attempts at home schooling after Simon’s death (where Matt was forced to make deliberate mistakes to get her attention). His grandmother, Nanny Noo, is also a wonderful creation – calling at Matt’s every other Thursday, cooking pasta bake, smoking one of her menthol cigarettes from the kitchen drawer, and already familiar with mental illness elsewhere in the family. I also loved the use of letters – Denise’s attempts to get Matt to attend his medical appointments, and particularly the wonderful invitations.
It’s hard to believe this is a first novel, so accomplished is the writing – but from hearing the author interviewed on Simon Mayo’s Book Club, I know this book was a long time in the conception and writing, and that he continues to work as a mental health nurse. An incredibly moving read, and very highly recommended.
For more information, see Nathan Filer’s website.