The Outcast by Sadie Jones

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The Outcast by Sadie Jones

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: When Lewis Aldridge lost his mother it was the beginning of a downward spiral of violence and self-harming which put him in prison. An assured debut novel nails the hypocrisies of the nineteen-fifties. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: February 2008
Publisher: Chatto and Windus
ISBN: 978-0701181758

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When the story opens it's 1957 and nineteen-year-old Lewis Aldridge is leaving prison, where he's spent the last two years. We don't know why he was there or what he's planning to do with his future, but his father has sent him a postal order which is large enough for Lewis to assume that his father would prefer him not to return home, but he buys some new clothes and goes back to his family. Would he have gone back if he'd known what this would lead to? I don't know.

In 1945 Lewis's father, Gilbert, returned from the war and he was a stranger to his son who had grown very close to his mother in the years that his father had been away. Gilbert is happy to be back in civilian life and all that this entails: church on Sunday, lunch with neighbours afterwards, cocktails of an evening and a flat in London which allowed him to avoid the daily commute if he wished. But Elizabeth, his wife, and Lewis are free spirits and happiest taking a picnic into the woods as they did in the war years. One day Lewis returns home without his mother.

It's difficult to believe that this is a debut novel. It's assured and Sadie Jones rarely puts a foot wrong. The genius is in the character of Lewis Aldridge. In life he's someone you would cross the road to avoid – he likes his gin neat and is far too handy, and fast, with his fists. He was in prison for a good reason which he freely admits, but you know that if he could have talked about what happened to his mother, if his father could once have listened to him then it could have been so different. For all that he's done you want life to work out for Lewis Aldridge.

I remember the fifties and Sadie Jones has them perfectly. 'Decent' people went to church and could always justify the reason why they beat their wife and daughters. The man with money and influence was entitled to stand outside church and berate the lad who had strayed from the straight and narrow. When Lewis turns to self-harming to find relief from his rage and frustration it's met with disgust and another plea for understanding goes unheard. Only sad and unhappy Alice, his stepmother, attempts to give help but she's more in need of help herself.

Just occasionally I found the dialogue confusing and had to check who was speaking but apart from that the writing is excellent – direct and clear with little in the way of wasted words. I've seen the book compared to Atonement and whilst the writing is not quite of the same standard I enjoyed this book more. I never felt that McEwan particularly liked his heroine, Briony Tallis, but felt quite the reverse about Sadie Jones' relationship with Lewis Aldridge. A comparison with McEwan is a lot to live up to, but I think it's deserved and Jones is certainly one to watch for the future.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to the Bookbag. We also have a review of Jones's Fallout.

If this book appeals to you then you might also enjoy Catherine O'Flynn's debut novel, What Was Lost.

Booklists.jpg The Outcast by Sadie Jones is in the Costa Book Awards 2008.

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Emma Ralphs said:

I am currently reading The Outcast and I am enjoying it. For me, it was a struggle to get in to, but once I had the first few chapters under my belt, it was easy.

The only thing I am struggling with is the way the author dealt with the death of Lewis' mother - it didn't feel right. The emotion and sentiment that you go through when you lose someone that close was missing.

Yes he withdraws into himself, but there was so much further the author could have taken it - I guess it must be hard if you haven't lost someone close to you.

When you read The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide, you know the author has dealt with death or certainly seen it at close proximity.

Also the way the self harming is dealt with seems as though it is lifted from another book/movie but maybe it's me.

Sue replied:

I know what you mean about the lack of emotion on his mother's death, but I took that as a symptom of what was wrong with him rather than a lack in the author. These days I think it would probably be called Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome or even depression. Part of the story, for me, was his inability to express any emotion after his mother's death.