I must start this review by thanking the wonderful Sam Eades for sending me a proof of Shtum, along with The Versions of Us by Laura Barnet, which has been added to my expanding ‘To Read’ list, as part of a Secret Santa giveaway.
I had heard so much about this book: on THE Book Club on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the general book world. Since diving into the book world myself on my unwavering hunt for a job in a publishing house, I have become more eager than ever to read proofs before the book is publishing so that I too can rave about them upon publication. Therefore, I knew I had to get my hands on Shtum, if not to see what all the fuss is about really.
And it’s completely worth the fuss.
Shtum tells the story of Ben and his autistic ten-year-old son Jonah, who are forced to move in with Ben’s father Georg in order to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal. Thus, three generations of Jewells are thrown together and a tale of family, history, identity and crisis unfolds.
I found the novel initially, not so much challenging, but challenging in its simplicity, in that I kept waiting for the bomb to drop and for it to to become the incredible novel I had read about. I did however, enjoy the opening sections for Lester’s writing similarities with Jonathan Tropper. I found his depiction of Ben to be quite similar to Tropper’s Judd from This Is Where I Leave You, though the two characters are on paper rather different. The way Lester plays with family dynamics and the meaning of family – in that family does not necessarily have to be blood – is incredibly reminiscent of Tropper’s writing, and Lester achieves that same casual elegance in his development of character and character relationships as does Tropper.
The wit and humour in Ben and his father Georg in times of hardship is what keeps the novel afloat and really makes up the heart and the emotion of the novel. The way the three generations interact and share their lives is simply charming and effervescent,
However, once the bomb dropped, and the bombs continued to drop, with more and more punches and twists to the tale that strike right at the heart, I realised just how fantastic this book would really be, and how it exceeds Tropper in so many ways. There is an emotional depth and an authentic sentiment to the closing chapters that really makes you root for the Jewells, despite their, at times, negative qualities, such as Ben and Emma’s dissolving relationship and their own individual demons.
The very end of the novel packs a serious emotional punch, that I was not expecting and really shook me as I read it. I don’t wish to spoil it here, but I will say that I felt it was slightly rushed, and though there were hints of it throughout the novel, I would have preferred a different narrative style, perhaps interweaving the close of the story throughout the novel in a dual narrative style.
I have seen much success with this kind of narrative in the past, though at the same time as it is a common narrative move, I can understand why Lester would choose not to write his story as such. But I really do feel that as impactful as the final note of the story is, it would benefit from more attention throughout.
I have no doubt that this will be a huge seller in 2016, and the success of it is truly down to Lester’s incredible ability to write compelling but relatable characters that really tug on your heartstrings, as well as packing a punch at the end of the narrative. I read it in approximately four hours, and have no doubt that with the right amount of hours in a day, you could too.
Shtum is published by Orion books on 7th April 2016 and again, all thanks go to Sam Eades for sending me a copy of this much desired first novel.