by Jem Lester
Publishing Date: 7th April 2016
Source: Copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!
Number of pages: 368
Genre: Literature/Fiction (Adult)
Powerful, darkly funny and heart-breaking, Shtum is a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships.
Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.
When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.
A powerful, emotional, but above all enjoyable read, perfect for fans of THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.
Oh my word, how shall I start this review? No idea. „Shtum” by Jem Lester was one of the most brutally honest books that I have ever read – he has written a very important book telling things how they are, without beating around the bush, without pulling the wool around our eyes and described autism in a way that shocked me – even though I shouldn’t be shocked, me thinks, as I am a teacher and had a contact with autistic children myself. But reading this story has just moved me to the core and more, and the author has incredibly well described the reality of being Jonah and being his parent.
And it is mostly really the reality that hits you so hard when you read this novel. Everything is described as it is, the autism, the struggles of the parents, their lives that are not at all glamorous, the problems and the fact that as a parent you are, in fact, left alone to fight for your rights. It has really made me think and it emphasizes some really important points.
It is also incredible how many emotions this novel awoke in me. Let’s stop at Jonah for a moment here. I loved Jonah but I can’t stop thinking that I loved him because he was not mine. If you are a parent you know how demanding, challenging, trying and wearing children can be, and I mean here healthy children. And then think about Jonah. And then start to appreciate all the million questions asked in one day, all the tantrums, all bad moods and appreciate the fact that your child can communicate without flash – cards and doesn’t strip on the street. Jonah doesn’t speak a word, and his story is mainly told through the eyes of his dad, Ben, and I’d like to see one person that haven’t shed a tear or two when Ben described Jonah’s life at the tribunal! Jonah doesn’t speak, but it is thanks to Jonah that his family starts to finally communicate with each other, that Emma finally reveals her secret, that Ben and his father Georg start to talk with each other. It is actually Jonah that makes thing happen. I would go that far and say that it is thanks to Jonah that Ben recovers and maybe not change his life completely, but something changes, and it is a start. Jonah’s silence speaks volumes. Jonah seems totally unattached from the world and people but there were tiny moments of affection from him, so greatly captured by the author, and he had a wonderful bond with his Papa Georg.
I despised Emma for what she did to her family but I also felt for her and I understood her decisions. Right from the beginning she seemed cold and detached, being a high – flying lawyer, and somehow I couldn’t stop the feeling she didn’t love her family anymore. But I didn’t judge her – how could I? I don’t know what I would do in such situation and Emma did what she thought was best, though I thought she did what was best for her and only her.
Then we have Ben. Oh my, how I sympathised with Ben, him being in the end the only carer for Jonah. But Ben was not as straightforward as I was thinking at the beginning. He was a complex character, more then often at his wits end and seeming not to be able to cope with anything. Whatever he started, he never finished, he was a heavy drinker and Emma’s points of view were a real eye – opener. But there is one thing that must be told about Ben – his fight can be seen as a desire to get rid of Jonah, but it was everything but. Ben proved to be a brilliant father, he had his ups and downs and who wouldn’t lose patience living life like his, and I’ve never doubted that he loved his son above all.
You know, it is all so hard and so tender and tricky, and still so controversial, but I think that the Jewells have made the right decision. Jonah’s autism was so strong and living with him was becoming a challenge.
No matter if autism is close to your heart or not, if you know someone with autism or not, this book is going to swallow you, chew you, spit you out and leave you an emotional wreck – but in a positive way. The author has done something incredible here, he got us as close to the characters and their feelings and emotions as possible, to be honest I’ve never experienced something like this before. We are able to know they most intimate and private thoughts and they are so honest and genuine, so raw and so hurting, and you know what? Jem Lester truly puts into perspective what is REALLY important, this book opens your eyes.
I only had some problems with the ending – it seemed quite disjointed from the rest of the story although I have a feeling this was very important for Ben and it was a very nice closure to the story in fact.
„Shtum” is a very thought – provoking book, an important book, charming, gut wrenching and heart – breaking. It is extremely moving, but even though the topic of it is very difficult and serious, the novel itself is very easy to read and I had no problems to engage with the topic or characters. It may sound like a depressing, sad book but it’s not, there is a great dose of humour in this novel as well. A tale about family bonds, hope and forgiveness, a tribute to unconditional love, written with a lot of feeling and understanding, it has really blew me away. I knew it’s going to be exceptional, but had no idea how powerful it is. Highly recommended!