Leigh & District

Book Reading & Armchair Critics

Facilitator:Christine Lovelady
Venue & time:Leigh Miners1pm - 3pm1st Monday in month

December 2021 Meeting

December saw us meet again and share the same book, courtesy of Leigh Library Service. Our novel was ‘The Shock of the Fall’ by Nathan Filer and once more there was plenty of discussion, reaction and opinion.

One of the group gave us some background to the author, telling us that he was a mental health nurse who wrote this book as part of a creative writing course. For some, this made the book fresh and authentic whilst others thought it was obvious that Filer is not an experienced or necessarily accomplished writer. The subject matter, a man’s descent into mental health, also caused a difference of opinion in the group. For some, the topic was too much, too difficult, bleak and the book was a DNF (Did Not Finish). Others found much ‘gallows’ humour that caused laugh out loud moments and also a gritty depiction of this still taboo subject matter. It was agreed that the whilst the style may have been weak at times, the content was realistic, as would be expected of a writer involved in research into mental health.

We considered the argument of nature v nurture. Matthew Homes has a mother with mental illness and also a great uncle and then there is the death of his brother, Simon. Matthew was nine when Simon died and he holds himself responsible because even though Simon was older, he had Down Syndrome and Matthew was meant to look after him. At seventeen, Matthew is diagnosed with schizophrenia and is ‘sectioned’ under the Mental Health Act. Whilst nature may have played some part in his illness, as a family, the Homes never spoke about Simon’s death or showed their feelings. Is this perhaps the biggest impact on Matthew as he turns to an ever increasing use of cannabis in order to deal with his emotions? But then his mother keeps home from school and makes a virtual prisoner of him. She constantly takes him to the GP, perhaps developing ‘Munchasuen’s by Proxy’ within the young Matthew. She constantly tells him that he is not a nice person, but he was and he did things to help others, including becoming her carer.

Whatever the cause of Matthew’s illness, he does not deal well with what he feels is incarceration. For some, this is where the book becomes hard to follow as whilst in hospital, Matthew keeps a journal and the writing moves from the present to the past, both pre and post the death of Simon. We learn that his mother was left in poverty in childhood and that her grandparents were the ones who really raised her and full circle, it is Matthew’s Nanna Noo who is his greatest champion and support. He finds the time in hospital frustrating because he does not have the insight to see that the staff are there to help him; they are stopping him live his real life. Within these reflections we also meet a pivotal character who actually plays cameo roles. Annabel is there at the start of the book and is the catalyst for what happens between Matthew and Simon. Yet she is there at the end when she is the one to be with Matthew when the floodgates of his emotions finally burst. Could this be because she is not a family member and so it is easier to unburden the self? Had Matthew finally found the insight he needed to move on and see the shadow of his culpability lifted? From this point he is able to move forward, even to the point of arranging a memorial service in his Simon’s honour.

The book highlights the on-going difficulties of discussing mental health issues within families. There is the fear that it might happen to other family members, a lack of understanding and the devastation it can cause, but most of all there is a lack of understanding of how to deal with it. Matthew’s Dad is left with the aftermath of cleaning up his flat, Nanny Noo is always there with food and Matthew’s friend leaves him for fear of being dragged down by the illness. It is a challenging book on many levels but its memoir style draws the reader in and makes it feel intimate, that Matthew has written just for your eyes. It was a book that divided the group and we gave it 3 *** out of a possible 5.

After this discussion, we moved on to the other books we had read since our last meeting.
There was Matt Haig’s ‘How to Stop Time which is an interesting book about people who do not age and see so much of human history. The one premise is that they must not fall love. You can guess what happens.... Also read was ‘The Undertaker’s Daughter’ by Kate Mayfield. This is a coming of age book set in a small US town during the 1960/70s and describes the fierce rivalry between two firms of undertakers. Kate grows up in the funeral home and is particularly fascinated with the embalming room. She is in thrall to her father, but Frank is flawed. He has a friend called Agnes who is a born story teller and Kate meets her. The true story is set against the back drop of Motown, the Civil Rights Movement and 1960s TV programmes. Sally Rooney’s ‘Beautiful World Where Are You?’ was also mentioned and whilst it dealt with the same topics as her previous books, it was considered to be more enjoyable. ‘Rizzio’ a novella by Denise Mina tells the tale of the murder of David Rizzio, the friend and secretary of Mary Queen of Scots. It is a gory death that Mary is made to watch.

Other books read this month

AUTHOR TITLE GENRE

Virginia Wolf To the Lighthouse Classic Fiction

Helen Oyeyemni White is for Witching Magical Realism/Fantasy/Gothic

Natasha Solomons The Song Collector Historical and Domestic Fiction

Ed. Sinead Gleeson The Art of the Glimpse Irish Fiction

Jess Kidd Things in Jars Gothic Fiction

Linda Grant The Dark Circle Historical Fiction

PLEASE READ ON

The topic of November’s book caused much discussion around the topic of mental health and how it impacts on the individual and their family and friends. We know that Christmas and New Year can be a difficult time for many people and so here are a list of help lines and organisations that might be helpful.

https://www.papyrus-uk.org

PAPYRUS UK is a charity for the prevention of young suicide (under 35) in the UK | Call PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141 Now

The Samaritans, Wigan - Contact us
116 123 free from any phone
0330 094 5717 local call charges apply
73 Dicconson Street
Wigan WN1 2AT

Salford MIND Phone: 0161 710 1070
Email: info@mindinsalford.org.uk

St Helens MIND Phone: 07912 059 881
Email: admin@sthelensmind.org.uk

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Musical Instruments Oil & Acrylic Painting Play Reading Poetry Appreciation
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More Group Pages
Acoustic Guitar Art Appreciation
Astronomy Book Reading & Armchair Critics
Creative Writing Crime & Punishment
Crime & Punishment 2 Egyptology
Indoor Bowls iPads & iPhones
Italian Line Dancing
Local History Luncheon Club
Maths Mixed Crafts
Musical Instruments Oil & Acrylic Painting
Play Reading Poetry Appreciation
Quilters & Needlework Quiz Club
Relaxation/Support Scrabble & Board Games
Shakespeare Singing for Fun
Tai Chi for Health/Wellbeing Ukulele
Walking Cricket Watercolour Painting
Women in History Women in History 2