Shtum is a book that hinges on Jonah Jewell’s autism. However, it’s a much bigger novel that encompasses familial relationships particularly between fathers and sons.
When Emma hatches a plan for her and Ben to separate in order to increase Jonah’s chance of a residential school placement, Ben and Jonah are forced to move in with his father. Ben’s relationship with Georg is put to the test when under the same roof, while Emma has disappeared. The book follows Ben as he discovers life as a single parent, business owner and alcoholic all too much.
*Please note: I received this book gratis in order to provide a review. This review is my honest opinion and is unaffected by the receipt of this for free.*
I was initially interested in Shtum because the NetGalley description ended “Perfect for fans of David Nicholls, The Shock of the Fall and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.” I love David Nicholls and The Curious Incident, and The Shock of the Fall is on my bookshelf yet to be read. This book seemed tailor made to my bookish tastes. I was not wrong.
Shtum was a brutally truthful telling of the story of fatherhood. Both from the eyes of being a son and being a father. Ben is stuck in the middle of these two roles and doesn’t quite sit well in either of them. His relationship with his father is estranged at best and he finds himself jealous of how his father interacts with Jonah and is willing to tell his all about his past but has kept the same information from Ben his entire life. Meanwhile, Ben is unable to verbally communicate with Jonah and, due to his autism, is unable to leave him alone. This makes running a business almost impossible.
Autism is central to the narrative, in that it is the crux on which everything depends. As such, this is not a book about autism, but more a book about how adults, specifically parents, interact with autistic children and the unique struggles they face in order to allow their child the best possible chances in life. For Ben and Emma, this means securing Jonah a place at a residential school in order to both create a consistent structures or his waking hours and to preserve his dignity.
I struggle to empathise with Ben’s wife, Emma, for the majority of the book. It is clear from her characterisation that she is at the end of her tether with a lot of of things but, she is portrayed as uncaring and willing to abandon both her son and husband. Though it is not until the end of the book that we begin to understand the extent of her distress. Ben for all intents and purposes tries to be a good person, but his continuous reliance on alcohol makes him somewhat of an anti-hero. Ben is a character you are only disappointed by because you know they can do better and in the end he does exceed his own expectations and it’s heartwarming to see his self-awareness grow.
Shtum is released April 7th by Orion and is available to add to your wishlist and pre-order here.
Have you read any of the books mentioned in this review? What did you think to them? Leave me a comment or tweet me @HowlingReviews.