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November 19, 2013

Book Notes - Nathan Filer "Where the Moon Isn't"

Where the Moon Isn't

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Published under the title The Shock of the Fall in Great Britain, Nathan Filer's debut novel Where the Moon Isn't is a compelling and heartbreaking depiction of mental illness and loss.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"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."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Nathan Filer's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Where the Moon Isn't:

I'll confess that I'm no music expert. I enjoy music. But I don't know too much about it. Furthermore – I can't listen to music whilst writing, or at least not music with lyrics. Nope. My desk is a place of silence, save the tapping of keyboard and my own susurrations as I try out dialogue beneath my breath. So I might well have respectfully declined the kind offer to contribute to largeheartedboy, were it not for the fantastic coincidence that at the precise moment the email arrived, I happened to be listening to the kind of obscure-track-by-little-known-band that might just make a person seem rather clued up.

Better yet, said track is related to my novel. So I'll start with:

"Clive Wearing" by Malcanisten

This beautiful, stirring piece of music forms the sound-track to an equally beautiful and stirring animated film: Common Side-Effects. It's a Dutch film that was made in response to Where the Moon Isn't and borrows its text from the novel.

It recently won an award for 'Best Sound & Music' at a small independent UK film festival. I'm delighted for the band. And I love how the track (and film) capture something of the loss and hope that my novel seeks to explore. You can watch it here:

"Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" by Baz Luhrmann

"On the radio the DJ was introducing some new song in this really chipper voice, like it was the best song ever recorded and it made his life complete to be able to introduce it. But none of this made any sense to me. I couldn't understand why the DJ was so happy when something so terrible had happened."

These are the words of Matthew Homes, my protagonist. He's nineteen at the time of telling his story. But this passage refers to a car journey from his childhood, shortly after the death of his big brother. His mum has turned up the volume so that he won't hear her crying. But that's stupid. He can hear her, and he can hear his dad crying too. Crying and driving at the same time. Matthew buries his head in his hands so that if his parents turn around, they'll think he's crying with them.

They don't turn around.

When writing this scene I never decided what song was on the radio – only that it was happy and irritating and utterly incongruent with the mood of the car. Also, the scene is set in the summer of 1999 so it has to be a song that was a hit back then. I considered "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" by Eiffel 65 but it makes my ears hurt.

Baz wins.

"Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral" by Bing Crosby

I only mention a couple of songs by name in this novel and this is one of them. Or at least it was for about a hundred drafts. I finally cut it before we went to print and I can't now think why. But I do know that on page 46 when Matthew hears his mum singing a lullaby to his dead big brother – this is the song I had in mind.

It wasn't a random choice. It's the lullaby that my mum used to sing to me whenever I was poorly and couldn't sleep. I associate it with fevers, days off school and unconditional love.

I'll sing it to my children too.

I Wan'na Be Like You (The Monkey Song) from Disney's The Jungle Book

Matthew's brother had a picture book of The Lion King. It was his favourite because when it gets to the part where Pumbaa and Timon start talking about Hakuna Matata, their dad would always attempt to sing the song – except he'd only ever get partway through before finding himself singing king of the swingers instead.

'I guess you had to be there, but it was really funny.'

Much of this novel is about those small moments – moments shared by a family who like so many families have nurtured their own traditions and folklores. It's a book as much about these little details as it is about the big stuff.

"Chime" by Orbital (the original mix)

From Walt Disney to an entirely different Fantazia: "His bedroom walls were plastered in old flyers from early '90s raves like Helter Skelter and Fantazia. It was stupid because we were still babies when they were happening, but he used to go on about them, saying how dance music was much better back in the day, and how now it was too commercial."

My protagonists may be too young. But I'm not. And it was better back in the day.

Reach for the lasers.

"The Girl from Donkey Kong" by Tim Clare

Okay – so I think it's pretty damn unlikely you will have heard of this one. It's by British poet and writer (and, evidently, ukulele player) Tim Clare.

My novel spans ten years of Matthew's life, and ten years of his games consoles. From Gameboy Color through to Xbox (these are the milestones of many a childhood). Tim Clare – an avid gamer himself – got in touch with me after reading the novel and thanked me for writing about Nintendo so convincingly, including an oblique reference I make to the fact that it isn't Princess Peach who Mario is trying to save in Donkey Kong.

His was certainly amongst the more unusual praise I've received, but listening to Tim's song I begin to grasp its importance to him. It's a funny (and surprisingly touching) track and I urge you to have a listen to. Find it on YouTube so you can watch his ukulele skills too.

"God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys

And this one is for no other reason than I really, really like it.

Nathan Filer and Where the Moon Isn't links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Litro review
Real Simple review
Telegraph review
Washington Independent Review of Books review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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