Our book club choice for April is funny and heart-breaking in equal measure, a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships. Shtum is the debut novel from Jem Lester.
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.
As Ben battles single fatherhood, a string of well-meaning social workers and his own demons, he learns some difficult home truths. Jonah, blissful in his innocence, becomes the prism through which all the complicated strands of personal identity, family history and misunderstanding are finally untangled.
Jem Lester was a journalist for nine years and saw the Berlin Wall fall in 1989 - and though there, he denies personal responsibility. He was also the last journalist to interview the legendary Fred Zinnemann, before the director died. He denies responsibility for that too. He taught English and Media studies at secondary schools for nine years.
Jem has two children, one of whom is profoundly autistic, and for them he accepts total responsibility. He lives in London with his partner and her two children. On his inspiration for the book he says: “I think, initially, the idea for Shtum came from the realisation that my own non-verbal, autistic son was more forthright in expressing his wants and needs than I was. Of course, I wanted to dismantle the stereotype of the 'gifted' autistic child but at the same time I thought it imperative that the joy and humour of these wonderful, innocent children was recognised and celebrated.”
Shtum is published on 7 April and available online and from all good booksellers. Remember that if you do receive one of our free copies you will need to leave your comments and questions for Jem Lester on the thread BEFORE the end of April.