Shtum by Jem Lester


To be honest, I only picked up this book because the author has the same name as my dog! It was a lucky catch though, because the story caught my interest.

Told from the perspective of Ben, this book tells the story of his son Jonah and his parents struggle in finding him suitable placement in a residential school. Jonah is ten years old and profoundly autistic. He doesn’t speak and he is doubly incontinent, and requires constant care. Ben and his wife Emma are struggling to cope. They are both working parents, although Ben’s spiralling alcoholism is impacting his duties as manager of his dad’s catering business. As their Local Authority are refusing to pay the fees for the required residential school, Jonah’s parents are taking the case to tribunal. Emma moves out of the family home, arguing that a single father situation will help their case in court. So Jonah and Ben go to live with Ben’s dad Georg, with home he has a difficult relationship.

This book turned out to be extremely different to what I was thought it would be. Yes, it is the expected sometimes hilarious – sometimes tragic story of a boy with severe autism, but there is much more to it than that. A lot happens in this book, including the tribunal (Ben’s speech made me cry) Georg’s illness, Jonah’s quirks and even an unexpected flashback to Georg’s childhood. And although not something I’d usually comment on, I found all the different relationship dynamics quite interesting, particularly the uneasy relationship between Ben and his own father, in complete contrast to Jonah’s relationship with the same man.

I really enjoyed this book, it was quite different and remained interesting the whole way through. It is an unusual read though, and probably not everybody’s cup of tea.


You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

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