From the Publisher
“WHERE THE MOON ISN'T is a stunning novel. Ambitious and exquisitely realized, it's by turns shocking, harrowing and heartrending. The writing is so accomplished it's hard to believe it's a debut -- it's clearly the work of a major new talent.” S.J. Watson, New York Times bestselling author of Before I Go to Sleep
“A page-turner, tender and tragic, told in a vulnerable voice that steps in and out of madness. Vivid and haunting, I keep replaying this story in my mind, reliving it, long after having read the final page.” Lisa Genova, New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice and Love Anthony
“I have become an evangelist for Where the Moon Isn't. It won me heart and soul with it's crazy, wild, fine voice, its bravura, its ambition, its harrowing corners, and the dense rich tiny core of love at its glowing, radiant center. In Matthew's admittedly hard world, the tiniest kindnesses echo and amplify, returning to him larger and louder, until they each become glorious---huge bursts of such grace and truth that more than once, I had to stop reading and weep at the sheer hope-soaked beauty of it. I loved this book cover to cover and word by word; I want to give it to everyone I care for, and I want to keep it for myself to reread over and over. You will, too.” Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
“Original and affecting. Filer's ability to capture Matthew's voice shows a special talent.” Heidi W. Durrow, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
“In the ruins of a family exploded by grief, a brilliant madman wrestles a narrative from his disintegrated life. What emerges is both quietly horrifying and surprisingly beautiful: a portrait of family love. Unsentimental, frank, and strange, Filer's narrator is the most likable nut since Kesey's ‘Chief.' He's funny and sad and mad, and he brought me through smiles to tears and back. What moved me the most however was not the tragedy at the story's center, but the sketches Filer draws around the edges: the mother losing her grip from holding too tight, the father stalwartly supporting his sons, the girl who stands up for what she has lost. Memories can destroy or redeem you, depending on how you recreate them. Who better to teach this lesson than a lunatic? I can't stop talking about this book. Looking for a fantastic read, a few laughs and a good cry? You've found it. Where The Moon Isn't is a fresh smart book with a big daft heart.” Lydia Netzer, author of Shine Shine Shine
“A terrific debut: engaging, funny and inventive.” Joe Dunthorne, author of Submarine
“A unique new voice, that in its humour, stark honesty and intriguing mix of bitterness and humanity will touch the hearts of every reader. A haunting, beautiful, unputdownable debut.” Abigail Tarttelin, author of Golden Boy
“Nathan Filer has done something special. It's rare that an author offers such an authentic and unflinching view into the mind of a character; Matthew Homes is as fully realized a protagonist as I have ever encountered. It won't take long for readers to fall in love.” Matthew Dicks, author of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
“A heartfelt story of a family learning to pick up the pieces in the wake of tragedy . . . the voice always felt real and authentic. I ached for Matthew and his family and was thoroughly captivated by their story.
” Real Simple
“Skillfully done books transcend age categories. This helps explain the success of such books as 'The Fault in Our Stars' and 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower,' and the endurance of 'The Catcher in the Rye.' 'Where the Moon Isn't' is indeed skillfully done, with drama enough to lure teen readers and sophistication enough to keep adults entranced.” Cleveland Plain Dealer
“The story Filer tells is deeply affecting and insightful in its account of mental illness. And Matthew is a character the reader won't soon forget.” Booklist
“A startlingly authentic portrayal of the rigors and tribulations of navigating the modern health care landscape while struggling with mental illness . . . works on many levels - as family drama, as a searing indictment of Western health care and as a confession. A haunting story about how to mourn when the source of your grief will never go away.” Kirkus
“In this very assured debut, performance poet and mental-health nurse Filer shows that he knows what he's writing about. It should prove catnip to book group participants (especially those who loved Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) and will appeal to anyone looking for a serious (but not ponderous) story that's impossible to put down. Readers might even end up seeing some similarities between their lives and the 'cut and paste kind of life' Matthew lives as a 'service user' in a National Health Service facility.” Library Journal, starred review
“A meditation on mental illness, a family drama and mystery, a coming-of-age story - all wrapped up in a caring, imaginative story about a boy and his brother.” Shelf Awareness, starred review
“This is a tale told beautifully in the innocent voice of a perennial child and misfit . . . Filer deftly paints a series of vignettes of Matthew's chaotic search for solace that successively unveils the mysteries surrounding his brother.” Washington Independent Review of Books
A fatal accident forever marks the life of a young British man struggling with his own demons. Originally published in the U.K. as The Shock of the Fall, this debut novel by mental health nurse Filer is a startlingly authentic portrayal of the rigors and tribulations of navigating the modern health care landscape while struggling with mental illness. The novel's protagonist is Matthew Holmes, a fairly typical 19-year-old lad living in Bristol under the shadow of terrible grief. When Matt was very young, he and his brother Simon, who had Down syndrome, sneaked out one night, like boys do, and Simon died. Slowly, we learn that Matt now suffers from a potent form of schizophrenia, accompanied by command hallucinations that come in the voice of Matt's dead brother. Filer ably captures what's going on in Matt's head, and it's not the gibbering, 12 Monkeys caricature that so often emerges from these kinds of tales. As Matt himself says, he may be mad, but he's not an idiot. Even more interesting is that Matt's story comes in the form of a diary, both hand-scribbled and hurriedly typed on a computer in the health care center where he seeks treatment and is given the plan. "It tells me exactly what I have to do with my days, like coming in for therapy groups here at Hope Road Day Centre, and what tablets I should take, and the injections, and who is responsible for what," Matt says. "This is all written down for me. Then there is another plan that comes into play if I don't stick to the first one. It follows me around, like a shadow. This is my life." This is a terribly unsettling novel, but it works on many levels--as family drama, as a searing indictment of Western health care and as a confession. A haunting story about how to mourn when the source of your grief will never go away.
Meet Matthew Homes. He's 19, quirky, lives in Bristol, England, and comes with a lot of baggage that he's happy to share in his own way and at his own pace. Matthew is also bipolar. He's the heart of this fractured tale about serious subjects ranging from mental illness and guilt to isolation (but it will make you laugh, too). Matthew is haunted by the fate of his older brother who years ago went missing on a family seaside holiday. Matthew's parents cope as best they can, and in Nanny Noo he has the gift of a grandmother. Much like someone you might meet on a park bench, our hero has lots of documents at his disposal, ranging from typed letters and handwritten notes and printouts to line drawings to make his complicated case. But hear Matthew out, and you'll be rewarded. VERDICT In this very assured debut, performance poet and mental-health nurse Filer shows that he knows what he's writing about. It should prove catnip to book group participants (especially those who loved Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) and will appeal to anyone looking for a serious (but not ponderous) story that's impossible to put down. Readers might even end up seeing some similarities between their lives and the "cut and paste kind of life" Matthew lives as a "service user" in a National Health Service facility.—Bob Lunn, Kansas City, MO
Read an Excerpt
the girl and her doll
I should say that I am not a nice person. Sometimes I try to be, but often I'm not. So when it was my turn to cover my eyes and count to a hundred I cheated.
I stood at the spot where you had to stand when it was your turn to count, which was beside the recycling bins, next to the shop selling disposable barbecues and spare tent pegs. And near to there is a small patch of overgrown grass, tucked away behind a water tap.
Except I don't remember standing there. Not really. You don't always remember the details like that, do you? You don't remember if you were beside the recycling bins, or further up the path near to the shower blocks, and whether actually the water tap is up there?
I can't now hear the manic cry of seagulls, or taste the salt in the air. I don't feel the heat of the afternoon sun making me sweat beneath a clean white dressing on my knee, or the itching of suncream in the cracks of my scabs. I can't make myself relive the vague sensation of having been abandoned. And neither for what it's worth do I actually remember deciding to cheat, and open my eyes.
She looked about my age, with red hair and a face flecked in hundreds of freckles. Her cream dress was dusty around the hem from kneeling on the ground, and clutched to her chest was a small cloth doll, with a smudged pink face, brown woollen hair, and eyes made of shining black buttons.
The first thing she did was place her doll beside her, resting it ever so gently on the long grass. It looked comfortable, with its arms flopped to the sides and its head propped up a little. I thought it looked comfortable anyway.
We were so close I could hear the scratching and scraping, as she began to break up and dry ground with a stick. She didn't notice me though, even when she threw the stick away and it nearly landed on my toes, all exposed in my stupid plastic flip-flops. I would have been wearing my trainers but you know what mum's like. Trainers, on a lovely day like today. Surely not. She's like that,
A wasp buzzed around my head, and usually that would be enough to get me flapping around all over the place, except I didn't let myself. I stayed totally still, not wanting to disturb the little girl, or not wanting her to know I was there. She was digging with her fingers now, pulling up the dry earth with her bare hands, until the hole was deep enough. Then she rubbed the dirt from her fingers as best she could, picked up her doll again, and kissed it twice.
That is the part I can still see most clearly those two kisses, one on its forehead, one on the cheek.
I forgot to say, but the doll wore a coat. It was bright yellow, with a black plastic buckle at the front. This is important because the next thing she did was undo the buckle, and take this coat off. She did this very quickly, and stuffed it down the front of her dress.
Sometimes times like now when I think of those two kisses, it is as though I can actually feel them.
One on the forehead.
One on the cheek.
What happened next is less clear in my mind because it has merged into so many other memories, been played out in so many other ways that I can't separate the real from the imagined, or even be sure there is a difference. So I don't know exactly when she started to cry, or if she was crying already. And I don't know if she hesitated before throwing the last handful of dirt. But I do know by the time the doll was covered, and the earth patted down, she was bent over, clutching the yellow coat to her chest, and weeping.
When you're a nine-year-old boy, it's no easy thing to comfort a girl. Especially if you don't know her, or even what the matter is.
I gave it my best shot.
Intending to rest my arm lightly across her shoulders the way Dad did to Mum when we took family walks I shuffled forward, where in a moment of indecision I couldn't commit either to kneeling beside her or staying standing. I hovered awkwardly between the two, then overbalanced, toppling in slow motion, so the first this weeping girl was aware of me, was the entire weight of my body, gently pushing her face into a freshly dug grave. I still don't know what I should have said to make things better, and I've thought about this a lot. But lying beside her with the tips of our noses nearly touching, I tried 'I'm Matthew. What's your name?'
She didn't answer straight away. She tilted her head to get a better look at me, and as she did that I felt a single strand of her long hair slip quickly across the side of my tongue, leaving my mouth at the corner. 'I'm Annabelle,' she said.
Her name was Annabelle.
The girl with the red hair and a face flecked in hundreds of freckles is called Annabelle. Try and remember that if you can. Hold on to it through everything else that happens in life, through all the things that might make you want to forget keep it safe somewhere.
I stood up. The dressing on my knee was now a dirty brown. I started to say we were playing hide-and-seek, that she could play too if she wanted. But she interrupted. She spoke calmly, not sounding angry or upset. And what she said was, 'You're not welcome here any more, Matthew.'
She didn't look at me, she drew herself onto her hands and knees and focused on the small pile of loose earth patting it neat again, making it perfect. 'This is my daddy's caravan park. I live here, and you're not welcome. Go home.'
She was upright in an instant, moving towards me with her chest puffed out, like a small animal trying to look bigger. She said it again, 'Get lost, I told you. You're not welcome.'
A seagull laughed mockingly, and Annabelle shouted, 'You've ruined everything.'
It was too late to explain. By the time I reached the footpath, she was kneeling on the ground again, the little yellow doll's coat held to her face.
The other children were shouting out, calling to be found. But I didn't look for them. Past the shower blocks, past the shop, cutting through the park I ran as fast as I could, my flip-flops slapping on the hot tarmac. I didn't let myself stop, I didn't even let myself slow down until I was close enough to our caravan to see Mum sitting out on the deckchair. She was wearing her straw sun hat, and looking out to the sea. She smiled and waved at me, but I knew I was still in her bad books. We'd sort of fallen out a few days before. It's stupid because it was only really me who got hurt, and the scabs were nearly healed now, but my parents sometimes find it hard to let stuff go.
Mum in particular, she holds grudges.
I guess I do too.
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.
When we arrived at Ocean Cove Holiday Park bored from the journey, and desperate to explore we were told it was okay for us to go anywhere in the site, but were forbidden from going to the beach by ourselves because of how steep and uneven the path is. And because you have to go onto the main road for a bit to get to the top of it. Our parents were the kind to worry about that sort of thing about steep paths and main roads. I decided to go to the beach anyway. I often did things that I wasn't allowed to do, and my brother would follow. If I hadn't decided to name this part of my story "the girl and her doll" then I could have named it, "the shock of the fall and the blood on my knee" because that was important too.
There was the shock of the fall and the blood on my knee. I've never been good with pain. This is something I hate about myself. I'm a total wimp. By the time Simon caught up with me, at the twist in the path where exposed roots snare unsuspecting ankles I was wailing like a baby.
He looked so worried it was almost funny. He had a big round face, which was forever smiling and made me think of the moon. But suddenly he looked so fucking worried.
This is what Simon did. He collected me in his arms and carried me step-by-step back up the cliff path, and the quarter of a mile or so to our caravan. He did that for me.
I think a couple of adults tried to help, but the thing you need to know about Simon is that he was a bit different from most people you might meet. He went to a special school where they were taught basic stuff like not talking to strangers, so whenever he felt unsure of himself or panicked, he would retreat to these lessons to feel safe. That's the way he worked.
He carried me all by himself. But he wasn't strong. This was a symptom of his disorder, a weakness of the muscles. It has a name that I can't think of now, but I'll look it up if I get the chance. It meant that the walk half killed him. So when we got back to the caravan he had to spent the rest of the day in bed.
Here are the three things I remember most clearly from when Simon carried me:
1/ The way my chin banged against his shoulder as he walked. I worried that I was hurting him, but I was too wrapped up in my own pain to say anything.
2/ So I kissed his shoulder better, in the way that when you're little you believe this actually works. I don't think he noticed though, because my chin was banging against him with every step, and when I kissed him, my teeth banged instead, which, if anything, probably hurt more.
3/ Shhh, shhh. It'll be okay. That's what he said as he placed me down outside our caravan, before running in to get Mum. I might not have been clear enough Simon really wasn't strong. Carrying me like that was the hardest thing he'd ever done, but still he tried to reassure me. Shhh, shhh. It'll be okay. He sounded so grown-up, so gentle and certain. For the first time in my life it truly felt like I had a big brother. In the few short seconds whilst I waited for Mum to come out, as I cradled my knee, stared at the dirt and grit in the skin, convinced myself I could see the bone, in those few short seconds I felt totally safe.
Mum cleaned and dressed the wound, then she shouted at me for putting Simon in such a horrible position. Dad shouted at me too. At one point they were both shouting together, so that I wasn't even sure who to look at. This was the way it worked. Even though my brother was three years older, it was always me who was responsible for everything. I often resented him for that. But not this time. This time he was my hero.
So that's my story to introduce Simon. And it's also the reason I was still in Mum's bad books as I arrived, breathless, at our caravan, trying to make sense of what had happened with the small girl and her cloth doll.
'Sweetheart, you're ashen.'
She's always calling me ashen, my mum. These days she calls me it all the time. But I forgot she said it way back then too. I completely forgot that she's always called me ashen.
'I'm sorry about the other day, Mum.' And I was sorry. I'd been thinking about it a lot. About how Simon had to carry me, and how worried he had looked.
'It's okay, sweetheart. We're on holiday. Try and enjoy yourself. Your dad went down to the beach with Simon, they've taken the kite. Shall we join them?'
'I think I'm going to stay in for a bit. It's hot out. I think I'm going to watch some telly.'
'On a lovely day like today? Honestly, Matthew. What are we going to do with you?'
She sort of asked that in a friendly way, as though she didn't really feel a need to do anything with me. She could be nice like that. She could definitely be nice like that.
'I don't know Mum. Sorry about the other day. Sorry about everything.'
'It's forgotten sweetheart, really.'
'I promise. Let's go and fly that kite, shall we?'
'I don't feel like it.'
'You're not watching telly, Matt.'
'I'm in the middle of a game of hide-and-seek.'
'No. I'm seeking. I should do that really.'
But the other children had got bored of waiting to be found, and had broken off into smaller groups, and other games. I didn't feel like playing anyway. So I wandered around for a bit, and I found myself back at the place where the girl had been. Only she wasn't there any more. There was just the small mound of earth, now carefully decorated with a few picked buttercups and daisies, and to mark the spot two sticks, placed neatly in a cross.
I felt very sad. And I feel a bit sad even thinking about it. Anyway, I have to go. Jeanette from Art Group's doing her nervous bird impression; fluttering around at the top of the corridor, trying to catch my attention.
That paper-mache won't make itself.
I have to go.