The Shock of the Fall

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Over the past month, I have attempted to read several books. I have not been successful; each book has been returned to my local library within days of being checked out.  I wonder what this means. Am I loosing my skill at picking out a good read? Or is it the case that I’ve had my head stuck in too many books for too long a time? I’ve overloaded my brain with one story too many and things have got a bit mushy in that place I store my grey matter!

Then, something unusual happened. I could call it serendipitous, a lucky-find, or even suggest that the universe conspired to send something wonderful my way: yesterday, while sorting out the pile of magazines and unread books in my office, I came across a book a friend had given months ago (soon after Christmas, I think).  I remembered how she raved about how good it was, how full of feeling it was and that she was sure I would love it; that I would be hooked by the end of the first sentence.  Sure, I thought, that would be lovely but in actual fact I know from experience THAT type of book does not come around very often (the last time a book like that came into my life it was the unputdownable The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd), but I admired her enthusiasm and gratefully accepted the book. I had no notion of reading it for some time; I had more important books to get through, like the ones that had been especially ordered for me at the library. I thanked my friend and promised her that I would get to it soon.

I broke my promise.  That is, I broke my promise, until yesterday. In my attempt to get a handle on office-clutter, I spotted the book peeping out at me from under my desk.  The memory of my promise came ghosting after me, so I leaned in and pulled the book from the sloppy pile. I caught a glimpse of the red sticker, Costa Book Awards, Winner 2013: The Shock of the Fall.

Like a pro, I turned the book around in my hands and decided immediately that I liked the cover.  Forgive me for the cliché; I know a book should not be judged by its cover, but that’s exactly what I did. I loved the tree, its branches, its lovely little delicate leaves and the little birds peppered amongst the branches, but what really got me was the little boy sitting beneath the tree, his legs tucked up into his waist, a book in his hand and a little bird flying from the book he was holding.  It has a gentle cover I decided. I like gentle covers.  O’K, I thought, I’ll give you a go gentle covered book.  That was yesterday at approximately 10.30am – its 15.00 today, and I’m writing the review.

Told through the eyes of Matthew Holmes, a young schizophrenic boy, The Shock of the Fall SOFTFdetails Matthew’s struggles with not just his mental illness, but also the grief he feels in the aftermath of his brother Simon’s death.

Since his death, Matthew’s life hasn’t been an easy one. He is home-schooled by an over-protective mother (whose own life is shattered by her eldest son’s death) and who throughout Matthew’s life has rushed him to doctors at the mere sign of a sniffle. At seventeen he leaves home to live with a friend Jacob, the now-19-year-old constantly struggles with the overwhelming grief, and guilt, at the way Simon died. His time as a care worker, helping look after Jacob’s disabled mother, further illustrates Matthew’s caring nature all the time while he struggles with an illness that is trying to define him as a person.

Matthew is someone you warm to instantly. He displays genuine guilt for what his parents and extended family go through with his mental illness. Matthew’s story made me laugh and cry. His wicked sense of humour, his honesty and his courage ensured I was with him every step of the way – almost as if I was in his very head.  The story illustrates, how even in times of grief and sadness life still goes on, and how we must pick ourselves up and move into new chapters. It didn’t surprise me to discover that Nathan Filer is a mental health nurse: throughout the story there is insight and the knowledge of one who knows what the ordeal of mental illness means not just for the sufferers but also their family and friends.

This is a terrific story. It will stay with you for a long time. My hope is that Matthew, and all those who suffer similarly recover.

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A Little History of The World

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In 1935, Ernst Gombrich was invited to attempt a history of the world for younger readers.  He was 26 years old had a doctorate in art history and no prospect of a job. He completed the task Historyin six weeks.

This is a fascinating book. In 40 concise chapters, Gombrich tells the story of man, the story of us, from the Stone Age to the Atomic Bomb.  However, instead of providing the reader with a deluge of dates and facts, Gombrich leaves out the boring bits and recounts our history in an amiable way as if he is in the room with you – telling a story.

This story starts with ‘Once upon a time’ and as Gombrich weaves expertly in and out of real-life events we learn of humanity’s achievements and are reminded of our failings. We cannot see where the story ends, but we do hope there is a happy ending.

Ernst Gombrich’s wonderful book demonstrates that history does not need to be boring or stuffy; history books do not need to be covered with a thick layer of centuries old dust before they appear interesting. It is the tales contained within the covers that are important – it’s all about the stories!

 

Among E. H. GOMBRICH’s many writings are the international bestsellers The Story of Art and Art and Illusion. He was director of the Warburg Institute of the University of London from 1959 to 1976. For further information please click here

Benevolent Eyes

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A traveller was passing through a village and asked someone standing by: “What’s the next village like? Is it friendly?”

The person asked in return: “How was the village you have just come from?”

“Oh, it was awful; people there were unfriendly and indifferent, some even hostile ,” said the traveller.

“The next village is similar,” was the reply. So the traveller walked on with an anxious frown.

After a while another traveller stopped to ask the same question: “What’s the next village like?”

The same person replied with the same question: “How did you find the previous village?”

This time the response was different: “Oh, it was good; people were friendly, helpful and hospitable,” said the traveller. The person in the village replied: “You will find the next village similar.”

What a simple story with a wonderful moral. If we open our eyes, and “project benevolence we will receive benevolence in return“. Satish Kumar’s message of benevolence is quite simple, not at all complicated.  When we read the above story, it all seems perfectly achievable. Yet, in the real world things are not so simple. The world in which we live is one of conflict: racial, religious, national and international conflicts are rife, so we lose our confidence, try to protect ourselves and look the other way.

I once heard a grandmother ask her grandson “Where are your eyes gone?” The boy, 14 years old and a hotchpotch of teenage angst, looked at his grandmother as if she had just lost her mind “Nowhere!” he replied. “So, open them” she yelled at the confused looking boy.

It is really that simple. Open our eyes, look, really look at what’s happening around us. Instead of turning a blind eye, shrugging our shoulders and giving-up, let’s try to open our eyes and see what we really need to see. What have we got to lose?

Soil, Soul, Society by Satish Kumar (Ivy Press).

These is my Words – Nancy E. Turner

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I first read this story in early 2000 – The Millennium. I read it again recently and loved it just as much as I did all those years ago. Based on the real-life exploits of the author’s great-grandmother, this fictionalized diary vividly details one woman’s struggles with life and love in frontier Arizona towards the end of the 19th Century.

This is Sarah’s story. A girl, whose no-nonsense strength draws you in and makes you fall in love with her! Her honesty and outlook on life are lessons in themselves; she inspires and delights.
There are a multitude of themes weaved throughout the story: love (yes, there is a love interest!), empowerment, adventure, motherhood, disappointment, despair, hope, joy and fear. The joys and struggles Sarah experienced throughout her lifetime transcend time and place.

If you would like to meet a real heroine – please, let me introduce you to Sarah! Not only will you fall in love with her, she will help you dig inside and discover your own gold; the hero that resides in us all. These Is My Words wonderfully brings a forgotten world back to life again.

I will leave you with this quote from Sarah:

“Mama told me to make a special point to remember the best times of my life. There are so many hard things to live through, and latching on to the good things will give you strength to endure, she says. So I must remember this day. It is beautiful and this seems like the best time to live and the best place”.

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See this review on writing.ie