US Version: Where the Moon Isn’t
“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.”
Matthew Homes, 9 years old, and his older brother Simon go on holiday with their parents. Simon has Down Syndrome. Matthew and Simon sneak out in the middle of the night but only Matthew returns to the caravan, and he blames himself for his brother’s death.
As the years go by, Matt writes about his experiences and his life whilst imprisoned in an acute psychiatric ward. He has Schizophrenia. He wants to understand what happened that tragic night as he hears the voice of his brother and tells us he has found a way to bring him back. Maybe writing his thoughts down will help in the healing and offer relief from his guilt, coping with the trauma, and the grief he has been through.
I was given this book as a present from my Gran because she was reading it in her book club and we were talking about my degree (Psychology) and this book came up in conversation because it involves schizophrenia, a psychological disorder.
Close to the beginning of the book we learn that matt has a mental illness, but we’re not sure which one it is. The onset of it was in early childhood when a trauma happened whilst on holiday with his brother and his parents. Early in the book, you could tell that even as a kid Matt was slightly different, and then later in the book we discover he has schizophrenia. He reveals it in a matter-of-fact way. The chapter title is schizophrenia and he gives a definition.
When Matt starts to feel the symptoms and problems associated with his mental illness, you can start to see him descend into madness. Sometimes Matt tells you that he talk about something later on in the book, and sometimes he forgets to mention important or trivial details. It’s kind of jumbled, but it adds to the style of writing of the book and reflects the mental illness he suffers from. The book jumps between 3 time periods. One when he is 9 and living with his parents, going to school. One where he is 19 and has his own apartment with his best friend, and one where he a little bit older and in an acute psychiatric ward.
I would have liked to know more about the parents and how they were dealing with their son in a psych hospital. But I understand that it was written in first person and Matt would not be able to guess what his parents were feeling because the disorder is so self-centered, and most of what he was writing was about himself and his feelings. It helped me understand what living with schizophrenia, in a way, was like through Matthew’s eyes and thoughts, and how other people (and professionals!) actually treat people with mental illness. It was quite shocking (pardon the pun). Some professionals in the book don’t see the patients as people, or they don’t particularly act normal around patients because they don’t know how to treat them. But others are really lovely people and try to help the patients as much as possible. He also describes life in a psychiatric ward as “cut and paste” – he says that everyday is pretty much the same, and there’s nothing to do.
The book deals with mental illness, grief and trauma in a completely relatable and understandable way. The narration was never frustrating and is not written in a typical way – the book isn’t cliché, it was unexpected at times. Matt speaks directly to you, he writes about his life experiences of everyday life and his thoughts. He writes everything down and leaves nothing out. Matt’s story is heartbreaking and uplifting simultaneously as he comes to closure with past events. He writes in a completely honest and truthful way. There are no secrets with Matt. The things he writes about can seem random and irrelevant to the reader, but they are relevant to him.
In the book, there is a lot of dark humour. Matt kind of states the obvious in a stereotypical way. He calls his fellow psychiatric inpatients “nutters” like he doesn’t associate himself with them. We are told about some of the other patient’s ‘episodes’ as Matt sees them happen in the ward,and also some of his. But Matt isn’t stupid, he can tell if anyone is lying or if someone has ulterior motives although he’s not always right.
The book is a quick read and I couldn’t put it down. All the way through, the book is written in different fonts. When he’s in his apartment, he types on a typewriter, so the font reflects that, and in the psychiatric ward, he types on a computer. Every word that is chosen is chosen with such skill that it will linger in your mind for days. I felt like I was reading about a real person’s life. He writes in a relatable way, but at the same time, you can’t relate unless you have a life-changing mental illness like Matthew does. When he is young, the writing style sounds young, and when he is mentally unstable, the narration reflects just that. It switches from past and present tense, and he doesn’t tell things in order.
Matt tries his best to get through his struggles in his life, but at some points, especially when he is 19 in his apartment where he takes refuge, he hides and tries to avoid any social contact, from his family as well the medical professionals who he needs to see to take his meds. But he doesn’t want to – he believes he has found a way to bring back and talk to his brother, and taking the meds won’t let him do that.
There are some plot points which I wish were explained a little bit more, although Matt said in the book that you don’t get to choose what you remember in life, especially when you’re younger. And the things that didn’t have explanations was probably because he couldn’t remember what happened.
But overall I loved it, and I would give it 5 stars. Brilliant writing style, completely truthful and a beautiful story of a young man overcoming his demons.
Winner of the Costa Book of The Year 2013
Winner of the Specsaver’s Popular Fiction Book of The Year 2014
Winner of the Betty Trask Prize 2014