Jem Lester, journalist turned novelist, made me laugh and cry, then laugh again, with Schtum.
Schtum is about Ben Jewell and his relationships with his terminally ill father, Georg, his wife, Emma (who he has (pretend) separated from) and his son, Jonah, who has autism spectrum disorder- he has no speech, and instead communicates through Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) cards- and, how could I forget, alcohol!
The novel begins with Emma’s decision that a separation will help them win Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal, challenging the council’s decision on Jonah’s school place. Ben and Jonah move in with Georg.
From there, Ben faces single-parenthood, his dependence on alcohol, Georg who he has no real relationship with, money problems, his dwindling relationship with Emma, responsibility and pressure, and his own past.
Each chapter has a PECS card, symbolising the name, and starts with a letter from one of the many individuals or agencies involved in the tribunal. There are also a lot of flashbacks throughout the novel, to life before Jonah, and Georg’s childhood during World War Two.
I’ll admit, I didn’t choose to read this. My Mum’s book club has good snacks, but I feel like a loser turning up, eating and having nothing to say, so I read it. I started 5 days before the book club met, and was finished in about 3.
I got completely sucked in- I felt emotionally invested in all of the story lines. It was, in equal parts, hilarious and saddening.
I would recommend this book to anyone, young adult to pensioner. The language is occasionally a bit naughty, if you’re super young, but when you consider the story line, the odd f-word is understandable!
Schtum is available here– go read it!