When Emma and Ben agree to fake a break-up to help get their autistic son, Jonah, into the best school, father and son move in with Georg. Three generations of men; a son who can’t speak and a grandfather who won’t, and a father at breaking point.
After reading an article by Jem recently, I get the feeling this is a highly autobiographical novel. He has a son with autism, which adds a level of authenticity to the everyday tasks and hardships the characters go through.
It’s an emotionally tough and challenging read in places, although the prose flows easily and the pages turn quickly. Whilst Ben loves his son, the constant care is stressful and neither parent can live their life to fullest, let along hope for the future they wanted for their son. What do you do in those brief moments where you wish you didn’t have to deal with your child? The best they can do is get him into a school that meets his needs, a school that will cost the local authority a lot of money.
She knows what they mean – I can’t cope and I want him gone. As soon as the thought enters my head I mentally bat it away, like fleeting thoughts of slitting my wrists or dining on paracetamol.
If caring for Jonah wasn’t enough, they must go through a tribunal to get him a place at a residential school, one where he won’t just be another child to pass through the system. Yet Georg, his grandfather, doesn’t want him sent away, he thinks he should stay with his family, not packed off for the convenience of Ben.
There’s definitely tension between Georg and Ben, but as the story progresses you see more and more why Ben isn’t as well liked as you might expect. It’s not just about Jonah but his own destructive nature. And Georg soon has his own troubles to think about, all culminating in an emotional ending.
Whilst Emma remains in the background, the narrative kept my opinion of her changing. She’s trying to do the best for her son, but then she’s selfish, and then the truth comes out, the real reason the family dynamic is so hard. It’s not what you might assume. It’s easy to think harshly on people without knowing their full stories, and no one is perfect in this family, the reader may very well dislike them at times, they all are very human and fallible. I can empathise with all of them by the end.
Words become meaningless if you don’t tell your truth and they become weapons if you try to tell someone else theirs.
I’m not entirely convinced it needed the additional back story of Georg. It explains his determination for Jonah to not be sent away, but it felt a little contrived to me. It didn’t feel as intimate and real as the rest of the story.
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