Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

This is a book that comes with expectation. There was an 11-way auction leading up to its ultimate publication. Filer, a mental health nurse, first sparked the idea for this book as a student nurse, but only began penning his story with gusto two years ago, some eight years later.

This is Matthew’s story, written by 19-year-old Matthew ten years after the tragic death of his brother Simon. Matthew struggles with an overprotective mother, initially home schooled cutting him off from local community. Finally at the age of 17 he moves out of home and into a flat with his friend, Jacob. It is a big step for both young men, both a little unhinged from society. Matthew, still suffering from terrible grief, and Jacob, dealing with the pressure of caring for his ailing mother, come together briefly in an attempt to lead a life more ordinary.

Having slumped into mental anguish over the last ten years Matthew is heavily medicated for an illness which is not diagnosed until the final pages of the book. Matthew’s illness is monitored by a Day Centre, which he must attend to receive injections as he is known to be sporadic with his medication.

When Matthew is sectioned and taken into hospital Filer authentically examines the relentless drawing out of time.

“I want to talk about the difference between living and existing, and what it was to be kept on an acute psychiatric ward for day after day after day .... “

Following this Filer lists all the activities that Matthew will do in a day such as taking medication, sleeping, smoking and meals. At the end of his description is the word “Repeat”. It is told by someone who knows how sleep and meals form essential breaking points in a day that offers little to no relief.

The beauty of this book is in the perceptive unfolding of relationships between Matthew, his family, friends and carers. His relationship with his grandmother is the most beautiful. She wants nothing from him, only to be with him and to help him. She drops off groceries or helps with cooking; her assistance is always practical and necessary. She is the one Matthew allows into his life, the one person he will listen to.

“Nanny Noo tells me off for that. She says it doesn’t help to dwell, how it’s important to be grateful for the everyday things, that there’s happiness in a cooked meal or a stroll in the fresh air. I know she’s right too.”

In contrast Steve, the carer, also does things for Matthew, but more for himself than for Matthew.

“But that is what they do – the Steve’s of this world – they all try and make something out of nothing. And they all do it for themselves.”

Filer shines a spotlight on the carer’s need to be acknowledged for doing something proactive, the grandmother’s gestures are small and seemingly insignificant, but they are always for Matthew.

The book is written in clipped prose giving credibility to Matthew’s unreliable voice as he sinks deeper into despair. Filer’s background has clearly informed this impressive debut novel. It is a remarkable story told with insight and flair.

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