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The Outcast by Sadie Jones

The Outcast (2008)

by Sadie Jones

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1,079567,736 (3.59)222
  1. 30
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (JeaniusOak, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These character-driven literary novels set in 20th-century England offer haunting, reflective narratives of secrets, shame and guilt. In each, children make decisions or perform actions that have unintended, tragic consequences and lasting repercussions.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
This was very disappointing. Despite some really lyrical writing, I never quite believed in these characters or what happened to them. Damaged kids and for-shit adults set in post WII London suburbs. There were several anachronisms that are still nagging at me. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
This novel is mostly set in 1950s and follows the teenage years of Lewis in a village near London, although the reader is briefly taken back to the 1940s when Lewis' father is demobbed. The novel begins in 1957 when Lewis returns from prison and then Sadie Jones takes the reader back in time to Lewis' childhood. In this period, while everything is mostly lovely and Lewis is a popular and easy-going child there is an under-current of what is to come even in this section and I found myself on the edge of my seat awaiting the horror. Lewis' mother was very loving but is also shown as an alcoholic who has to work hard at limiting her drinking and who uses alcohol as a prop. The novel seems to be really about those things that are hidden behind the doors of respectable families and how this damages young people who will become adults and continue the cycle. After his mother dies Lewis is not surprisingly unhappy, he turns in on himself and his mother and her death are never discussed. His father quickly finds a new wife, Alice, who is well-meaning but is not supported in her instinct to love Lewis and quickly adopts a neglectful attitude that appears to be the norm. The other character in the novel, Kit, is younger than Lewis; she witnesses domestic violence in her home from a young age as her father hits her mother. Later this violence moves on to Kit, the wilful child, by-passing the beautiful older sister, Tamsin. These two young people, Lewis and Kit, live in homes where everything appears to be respectable on the outside and in a community that does not want to question or look to closely.
There is much in the novel that is hard to read; the scenes of domestic abuse, self-harming and violence are graphic and challenging. Despite the horror the novel was engaging and the sympathy for Lewis, who was always the ten-year old boy who had witnessed his mother's death, was on every page. The idea that love will save the day is there in the novel and is somewhat optimistic for two young people who have been abused and neglected but as Sadie Jones sends them both away for two years at the end of the novel; one to national service the other to finishing school, it was possible to go with that optimism. ( )
  Tifi | Feb 15, 2016 |
Despite being set in the 1950s, this book has a number of modern-day themes including self-harming, alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse and family relationships. At the age of ten Lewis watches his beloved mother drown. From that moment on he is made to feel unwanted and unloved and this has far-reaching consequences in the years to follow.

This is a rather dark and depressing book, despite its corny ending, with detailed descriptions of violence and of self-cutting. Whilst I felt sorry for Lewis there were many times when I thought he deserved how he was treated. Because of this, I never really connected with him. In fact, there weren't any characters I actually liked. A disappointing read. ( )
  HeatherLINC | Jan 23, 2016 |
This novel won the Costa Award for a first novel and was short-listed for the 2008 Orange Prize, deservedly so. The first 2/3 of the novel is brilliant.

This is a coming of age story, not my favourite genre, but I couldn’t put it down and finished it in 2 days. Somehow I managed to help my children with their homework while completely absorbed in 1950′s Britain, where post-war repression, denial, and dissociation are a practised art in the village where Lewis Aldridge grows up.

The novel begins with Lewis coming out of prison for an unknown crime, clearly not a terribly serious one as he has served two years. The story then begins with Lewis as a little boy, going with his mother to London to fetch his father, newly demobilized after serving four years in the second World War. The question is how does this Lewis, sweet, likable, and open hearted become a nineteen year old ex-con drunk.

On one level, the answer has to do with an accident, an unexpected tragedy, which no one is allowed to properly acknowledge, least of all the little boy who witnessed it. But it is also an exploration of denial and its cost, which Jones depicts with exquisite accuracy and insight. The setting for this exploration is the perfect choice, ie the post-war world of shut up, put on a cheery face and assemble the stuff of middle class life, where emotion is just more stuff to be displayed in the quantity and quality that is socially acceptable.

Real emotion is stuffed away, and, like the war, weighs the characters down more and more while they pretend to travel light. Consequently, ordinary decent people cannot grieve, but can and do drink (a lot). Nor can they properly love, because to do so means to open up their heavy hearts. They wish it were different but not if it means giving up denial. And so things go from bad to worse. This is the real tragedy.

Lewis as a child and then an adolescent acts out the sickness of the whole village. The very open-heartedness that made him so likable as a little boy makes him unable to fully shut away his grief and act his part the way others do.

Contrasting with Lewis, whose painful self-injury and outward bursts of rage are visible, the head honcho in the village, a successful business owner with the perfect family, is secretly and pleasurably abusive. The collusion of his family in hiding it is another consequence of denial, which Jones delicately portrays. The other outcast in the novel is Kit Carmichael, a child in this family.

Like Lewis she has absorbed some of her family and village culture, and yet, again like him, her nature does not permit full assimilation into it. While Kit believes that silent endurance is brave, thus colluding in her family’s secrecy, she is outspoken in other respects, telling the truth for and about Lewis, incurring her family’s disdain and wrath.

Both Kit and Lewis are fully realized characters, Lewis perhaps more so than Kit, but Kit is endearing in her faithful love and her outspokenness. The perspectives and thoughts of the minor characters also come through strong and clear, and Jones doesn’t hesitate to get into the mind of every sinful and failing person in the novel and to dig right into their humanness.

For me the last part of the book doesn’t quite live up to the brilliance of the rest. Like David Guterson in Snow Falling on Cedars, Jones takes her protagonist deeper and deeper into tragedy, only to pull a happy ending out of a hat. I wanted a happy ending, of course, but I wasn’t convinced that it was real.

She did such a good job of showing the villagers’ devotion to denial, that I would have expected that even when faced with the truth, they would find a way to turn it upside down as they had before. I also found it hard to believe that alcoholism and self-injury could be cured and true love find its way cleared just by discovering that a man one thought was respectable was actually an asshole, and a girl one thought lived an ideal life actually has suffered badly.

However maybe at nineteen, someone can believe it’s so, and the story ends there, rather than going on to years of therapy, probably a failed marriage and relapses, but hopefully no more jail time and a second, better marriage.

Despite that, this is really a wonderful novel. Her command of language is excellent, her voice original. Honestly, I’m relieved that the last bit wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped because otherwise I would be completely intimidated by the skill of this first novel from a writer in her early 30′s. I’m looking forward to what she does next, and I’d love to hear what other people who’ve read this book think of it. ( )
  liliannattel | Feb 6, 2014 |
This novel definitely falls in the category of Suburban Secrets Stripped Bare! Interesting story but overall the writing was weak and uneven. Specifically found her shifting of POV ineffective and, at times, downright clumsy. It seemed somehow rushed. It was pretty ambitious (ala McCarthy, Ishiguro, McEwan), so I stuck with it. But by the end the characters had become flat and colorless.

This is a first novel, so I may check her out later down the road. ( )
  Carl_Hayes | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Reading, KateNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099513420, Paperback)

1957, and Lewis Aldridge is travelling back to his home in the South of England. He is straight out of jail and nineteen years old. His return will trigger the implosion not just of his family, but of a whole community. A decade earlier, his father's homecoming casts a different shape. The war is over and Gilbert has recently been demobbed. He reverts easily to suburban life - cocktails at six thirty, church on Sundays - but his wife and young son resist the stuffy routine. Lewis and his mother escape to the woods for picnics, just as they did in wartime days. Nobody is surprised that Gilbert's wife counters convention, but they are all shocked when, after one of their jaunts, Lewis comes back without her. Not far away, Kit Carmichael keeps watch. She has always understood more than most, not least from what she has been dealt by her own father's hand. Lewis's grief and burgeoning rage are all too plain, and Kit makes a private vow to help. But in her attempts to set them both free, she fails to predict the painful and horrifying secrets that must first be forced into the open. As menacing as it is beautiful, The Outcast is a devastating portrait of small-town hypocrisy from an astonishing new voice.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:17 -0400)

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1957, and Lewis Aldridge is travelling back to his home in the South of England. He is straight out of jail and 19 years old. His return will trigger the implosion not just of his family, but of a whole community.

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