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The Outcast by Sadie Jones
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The Outcast (2008)

by Sadie Jones

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English (47)  Norwegian (2)  Dutch (2)  All languages (51)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
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 |
Lewis is seven when his father comes back from the war, and it's something of a shock to him, and changes the routines he had got into with his mother. When he's ten, his mother dies (she drowned, Lewis tried to help but couldn't). It's not really talked about afterwards, Lewis returns to boarding school and his father marries Alice fairly soon afterwards. Years pass: life is about keeping up the appearances while behind the scenes Lewis, Alice and Gilbert are all unhappy and drinking too much; nearby, Gilbert's boss Dicky Carmichael is abusive towards his wife and daughters, children who were Lewis's friends when they were younger goad him into fighting and then see him as a monster. Apperances shatter when Lewis goes to prison for arson, and remain uncomfortably shaky when he is released, and it doesn't take long for everything to blow up again.

Readable but I didn't like this book, and found all the genteel misery a bit too dreary and miserable. ( )
  mari_reads | Mar 2, 2013 |
This book packs a wallop and is definitely not for those who like soft, rosy stories.

It is a book that will haunt me for awhile...a long while.

As stated in the opening chapter, two people went into the woods for a picnic and only one returned!

When young Lewis witnesses the drowning of his mother, his life spins way out of control while his father and the upper crust social strata of 1940-1950's England encourages and foments denial.

When his father rapidly marries and Lewis' feelings are pushed further and further underground, he acts out in ways that harm himself and those around him.

This is a graphic novel -- not in the sense of cartoon like pictures -- but in the reality of stark images written at the hand of a very adept and powerfully skilled author.

Struggling to write a review about the awesome power of this book, I'll simply say it is a very compelling look at the phoniness of society. It is an incredible story of a young man struggling to find meaning in a very crazy environment.

While those around him are quite comfortable in their accouterments, lavish lifestyles, dinner parties and social status, their out-of- reality behaviors literally drive Lewis crazy!

While the adults emotionally and physically abuse their children behind closed doors, they quite comfortably drive their Rolls Royce cars out into the guilded land of la la land.

Highly recommended! ( )
3 vote Whisper1 | Aug 20, 2012 |
Possible spoiler warning: Whilst I do not enter into plot description here, I do reveal whether or not this book has a happy ending.

In the opening half of The Outcast the author succeeds so well at depicting the dull, and sometimes oppressive, atmosphere of suburban family life in England in the late 1940s and 1950s that one almost couldn't summon up sufficient enthusiasm to carry on reading. I'm pleased that I did, since in the second half this book comes alive with domestic drama and intense emotion. Jones does not flinch from describing the terrible consquences of grief, excessive drinking, and over-bearing patriarchal authority within the family unit. Lots of bad things happen in this novel, but ultimately it has that most unfashionable thing in literary circles - a happy ending, and a sense that redemption is always possible, however far one might have strayed from acceptable behaviour. ( )
  dsc73277 | Apr 27, 2012 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:35 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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.

» see all 3 descriptions

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