Summer reads: SHTUM by Jem Lester

A massive part of my summer plans (rd: indulgence) is going to be having my head permanently in a book. My bedside pile has grown + grown over recent months when I just haven’t had the time to read more than a page*. So last week I banned myself from buying ANY MORE… and the binge began.

Shtum was on the top of the pile so I grabbed it (and another) for our week in Norfolk. A debut novel from Jem Lester centred around Jonah his profoundly autistic 11 year old, this darkly comic tale is strangely gripping. As you can probably guess from the title, Jonah can’t speak. But it’s worse than that. He is incontinent, at times angry and wild and certainly making no progress at his primary school. And so Shtum traces the long war his parents fight to get local authority funding for an eye-wateringly expensive specialist residential school which would undoubtedly be the best place for their son.

All this would be bad enough but – adding insult to injury Ben (our narrator and Jonah’s father) is forced out of the family home (with Jonah in tow) by his wife (we learn why later on) and, grudgingly, has to move in with his elderly father. Ben, riddled with self-pity, is also struggling with an alcohol problem and a distinct lack of grip on his life.

Agonisingly heartbreaking and utterly touching, Lester keeps his roller-coaster of a story twisting and turning all the way to the end. No spoilers here as I really want you to read this novel. I more than sense his story is full of first-hand experience, making it all the more poignant and important to read and… let’s face it… we all think there’s something wrong with our kids and wonder how we would cope if there really was.

[*I did read Beyond Happiness by Anthony Seldon… but that’s coming up in a post of its own…  Next up is Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok]



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