‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’
Nathan Filer won the Costa Book of the Year award last year for this intensely well crafted debut novel, and now I have read it, I wholeheartedly agree with their decision. He also rightly won the First Novel award from Costa as well. The story is a relatively straightforward one, of a teenager’s descent into schizophrenia, but said teenager is also our narrator, so things are not always as simple as they appear. Mathew Homes was a perfectly happy boy with a brother he adored. His brother Simon has Downs Syndrome and is adored by the whole family. But, as Mat unflinchingly states, Simon died at a very young age, which starts Mathew down his path of mental disarray.
Mathew is writing his story of his descent into the depths of schizophrenia on an old typewriter given to him by his Nan, interspersed with his ongoing story of his journey back to square one. The differing fonts and styles are elegantly rendered and make this book an aesthetic joy as well as a literary one. It is very intelligently written, Mathew’s feeling that he’s fine and coping when it’s clear in everything he’s saying that the opposite is the case makes for some emotionally tough reading.
And as Mat slowly peels away the layers of memory and misremembering into what exactly happened with Simon’s death, the emotional punches just keep on coming. Mat has always blamed himself for what happened and so “this is my care plan: As a small boy, I killed my own brother and now I must kill him again. I’m given medicine to poison him, then questioned to make sure he’s dead”. The last third of this book is properly wrenching and making it through the final chapter dry eyed is no mean feat. It’s a great book, brimming with heart and never looking away from the emotional rawness that comes with long term grief and blame. It’s not an easy read, but it’s most definitely a worthwhile one. Highly recommended.