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==Synopsis of the book:==
The war is over and Lewis Aldridge life changes dramatically when the man he only has distant memories of returns. Being an only child he has always had a very close relationship with his mother and he feels this is threatened by his father returns. And while he settles back easily into civilian life Lewis struggles to form a new relationship with this man.
His mother is very unconventional and has a free and easy way about her. One day she takes Lewis to the river for a picnic and in a freak accident she drowns in front of him. There is no-one around and despite Lewis's desperate efforts he cannot save her. He is very traumatised by this tragic loss and unable to communicate with anyone about the incident. This includes the man he barely knows his father and neither of them talk about it and their relationship begins to be strained.
Lewis feels even more isolated when his father marries the following year. He finds he cannot be near them and spends his time either in his room or on his own in his own silent and very sad world. However as time moves on Lewis's pain turns to anger and frustration, with his old friends unable to get on with him. His only friend is Kit who is four years his junior but she seems to understand his feelings and be able to relate to them. Can Kit stop Lewis becoming unmanageable and save him from the demons he is fighting?
==My thoughts on the novel:==
I was very pleasantly impressed by this very thought provoking piece of fiction. To be honest my expectations when I picked this novel up where quite low as from the cover it looked very much like a Chic Lit. And yes it probably was one of these but I found despite that it was still an enjoyable read and one that had me engrossed from start to finish. I think the reason for this was it was such a well told and interesting story.
Sadie Jones is not an author I am familiar with, so I had no idea what to expect from this novel. The thing that impressed me was the little sticky label on the cover that advised that this book had been short-listed for the Orange Prize for fiction in 2008. I thought based on this it would be worth reading as while my tastes are often different from most, it must be good to be nominated for this award. This was Sadie's début novel and since then she has produced two best selling pieces of fiction.
I actually picked this hardback version up at a car boot sale. It only cost me 50p and the lady that was selling it advised me when I picked it up it was a cracking read. I immediately liked the title, because I like people are different from the norm either by choice or by fate. I wanted to know what the author had in her mind by this and why this man was an outcast. What had lead to this and how it felt to be in this lonely situation.
I flipped the book over looking to find out what it was all about. But instead I got three compliments about the book from three fellow authors. And while I don't usually appreciate these as they will never say anything bad about the book on this occasion I was interested to see what they had to say. The summary I eventually found on the inside cover. This was one of the longest and most detailed I can ever remember. It was four paragraphs long and set the scene well for both Lewis and Kit but said little about the torment that either or both of them would feel within the story.
The story began appropriately with an 11 page prologue. This was very unusual as it dealt with Lewis when he was leaving prison at the age of 19. It did not say why he had gone to prison but as he returned home you could immediately tell there was a massive problem in the relationship he had with his father. Who had not visited him in prison in the two years he had served there. I found I wanted to know more about this young man who appeared polite if very withdrawn from society.
The first chapter returned to 1945 when Lewis went with his mother to meet his father after he had been released from the army following the end of the War. What immediately became clear was the closeness and love both Lewis and his father had for this woman which was reciprocated. The two males seemed to be competing with each other for her love and already had a distant relationship. It seemed a household where it was more important to keep up appearances than show your feelings.
The story although deep and rich in detail and feeling I found a little slow to start with. As Lewis was being brought up in a middle class home and he appeared to have a happy life with many friends. However this was to change with the death of his mother and the inability of anyone to be able to talk to him about it and share his feelings with anyone. It was certainly a different time and I really found empathy with you boy and what he was going through.
In a way it was frustrating that no-one could talk to Lewis as his father and his new bride where unable to communicate and share any warmth or love with the struggling boy. I kept hoping that there would be a break through but Lewis seemed to change and become angry and bitter at his loneliness. I really enjoyed the way the author didn't just focus on Lewis she also shared the perspective and feelings of all the main characters in the story. So you got to see how Lewis's changing behaviour was seen by others close to him.
The story developed in ways I had not expected. This was a real bonus and I never had any idea what would happen to Lewis and Kit, whether it would be good or bad or even what would happen next to them. That made it very enjoyable especially the suspense as Lewis behaviour became more unpredictable. But all the while it was easy to understand why he felt the way he did and how he was crying out for help and support.
The story built up into a very exciting ending. I certainly based on what had happened previously had no idea if it would be a happy or sad end. I think the ending did satisfy me as like the rest of the story it was thought provoking. Yes I would dearly have liked and epilogue so I could see what happened in the following weeks and months to the main characters within the story, but at least by doing this we get to make up their endings.
For me this story was very rich in emotion. Even I found it at times a very moving tale. There were ups and downs and because it was written so well it all seemed real as if you were involved in the story in each scene. It certainly made me think how lucky I was to grow up with parents who loved me and how tough it must be to be lonely and distraught as such a young age.
For me the length of the story was about right. It is the type of story I feel that could have another instalment as I would love to know what happened later to the main characters within it. The story was well broken up into chapters and parts that made logical sense. The only thing I would question is whether the prologue when Lewis was leaving prison to return home should have actually been a prologue at all. I would have preferred the story being told in chronological order as I thought a little too much was given away by doing it as the author did.
Of the characters some I found I really liked and could relate to such as Lewis and Kit while others such as Alice his Step Mother I found it harder to like and respect. Lewis was such an easy character to like even when he was bad I felt for him and understood why he felt the way he did. Yes it was sad but because of what he had been through I found I always wanted the best for him but I understand his moods. I thought the author was sympathetic to him but by telling the story also from other view points you could see how his behaviour was affecting them and viewed by those around him.
I was very impressed by this very sad and heart wrenching story that had me engrossed all the way through. I thought it was an excellent, well thought out piece of fiction. With only minor criticism for a début novel it was first class. I certainly will be looking to read another from this exciting author and I don't even care if they are Chic Lits quality is quality regardless.
Price: 5.67 New at Amazon
First Published: 2008
Thanks for reading.
This review is published under my user name on Ciao and Dooyoo.
© CPTDANIELS June 2012.
I received my copy of 'The Outcast' as part of a book swap on the website Readitswapit. I am not sure I would have really stumbled across it otherwise, as the cover did not immediately grab me, and the reason I picked it from the other person's list was because it was listed as a Richard and Judy's book club Summer Read. I used to sometimes catch their show, and I knew they only selected 10 books each year so I allowed that and the fact is was nominated for the Orange fiction prize in 2008 sway me.
When I received the book and read some of the comments inside the cover, my heart sank a little. This was a debut novel, and the author Sadie Jones was being compared to Ian McEwan, an author that really doesn't appeal to me at all. I let this put me off for a long time, perhaps over a year, before I actually picked the book up and started to read. Even when I started, I read about the first 50 pages one night, then left it for about a month before going back, more as a stubborn personal trait of mine of not being able to not finish something I start rather than me being enthralled. I did start to warm to the book at my second attempt, and though it is not something I am bothered about reading again, it did provide a lot of food for thought and stir my emotions. It is something I am still thinking about a few weeks later.
The book is mainly set in 1957, with some events taking place earlier than this. The book's main character is a 19 year old boy called Lewis Aldridge. Lewis is just returning home after a 2 year stint in prison. Home is Waterford, on the outskirts of London. He is returning to his father and his step-mother, who are not eagerly awaiting his return. In fact, they would actually prefer he just took himself off and never returned.
Lewis's background is a bit of a tragedy. His mother died when he was only ten years old, and he was the only witness to the accident which killed her. He was particularly close to his mother as when his father was fighting in the war, it had been just the two of them living a fairly normal existence. After his father's return, Lewis was pushed aside a little, and after his mother's death he might as well not have existed. His stepmother was a rebound relationship, and as she was not much older than a child herself when she married, she was unable to have much effect on the boy Lewis in his formative years.
The Waterford Lewis returns to is awkward. No-one wants him around really, apart from 15 year old Kit Carmichael who has always had a crush on Lewis. Reluctantly, Kit's father gives Lewis a very menial job, making it clear to Lewis that the job is valueless which is what he believes Lewis to be.
Lewis is in for an interesting time. Life has changed a bit for the people he knew. The group of children he hung around with when younger are now fully grown. No longer does the innocence of childhood protect him.
The plot takes us through some of the things Lewis experienced in his childhood, and looks at how he rehabilitates in the few weeks after returning from prison. You start to build a picture of a really lonely existence, and as a mother my heart ached for this little boy who has never really been nurtured and allowed to grow into his own. I found that although Lewis was a bit of a scary character as I never really felt I knew he was mentally stable, I grew to care about him and wish that the people around him would give him a fair chance and allow him to become the man you know his mother would have wanted him to be.
The time was an interesting one in society. Not one I am massively familiar with myself, but the late 50s/early 60s were a time when young people were starting to behave a lot differently to the way their parents thought that they should have been doing. There are references to some of the culture in the LPs that Kit has that are her prized possessions, and a jazz club that is a venue to the plot. Compare that to the way we live now, and the childhood I experienced, I only just remember LPs from my early years, and I did find that it was a little harder for me to get engrossed in as a result. It was a more innocent time, yet not so far in the past that it is that different to how we live now.
For a first novel, the descriptive text, the plot and the solidness of the character is really impressive. This is a solid novel with nothing really to fault in it, other than my own difficulties at first finding a way to associate with the characters and setting. I did find some of the ideas covered in the novel such as the actions Lewis did to combat the numbness he felt a bit hard going. It was an emotional journey, and although it is one I am glad I went on once, I am not going to get anything more if I re-read it.
At 440 pages, even with large type, this one took a while to get through. Compare to the novel I read before, the Hunger Games which I devoured, this one was one to take my time over, mulling it in my brain as I went. I find I would recommend this but only to readers who like their novels on the more serious side. Although there is some romance, this is more of a heavy going drama novel.
I had never heard of this book until it was selected as a book group read. The plaudits on the back cover suggested it was written in a similar style to 'Atonement' so, having loved that book, I was keen to read this.
== The premise ==
Under the neat façade of the church-going, lunch-attending 1950s middle classes, rural life is full of familial abuse and misery. Lewis Aldridge, returning from jail at the tender age of nineteen, is frustrated by the polite hypocrisies of this world. A social outcast who is convinced he is broken, his actions quickly grow wild. Kit Carmichael, four years younger, has always adored Lewis. However, in her desire to help him, she will expose other secrets to public view...
== The opening ==
After a prologue describing Lewis' difficult return from prison, the narrative joins Lewis at age seven when his father is demobbed. This is a critical point in Lewis' life and for years afterwards he defines his life into two sections: before and after his father returned home. Gilbert brings a 'stuffiness' with him that Lewis and his mother resist, but tragedy soon divides Lewis' life into another before-and-after.
The prologue sets the style for the whole novel: thoughtful, painful, somehow separate. What could be simply a clumsy cliffhanger - why was Lewis in prison? Is he dangerous? - is actually an effective introduction to Lewis' psyche. Given the events of this chapter and the length of time Lewis was in jail I felt that it was fairly easy to guess what he had done anyway, so it doesn't create intense suspense. Instead, the focus is on how uneasy Lewis feels about his place in this world.
== My thoughts ==
I found the premise of the novel interesting, although it is certainly not a book I would have selected myself, mostly because I'm so busy trying to keep up with the work of authors I already know I like! This isn't a new topic (secretly abusive middle class families) but it is handled very well in this book.
I found the 1950's setting was neatly evoked through small details and was convincing without the need for layers of description. In fact, Jones uses description sparingly throughout: it is always purposeful, which I liked, and gives the narrative coherence rather than being a diversion.
This is Jones' first novel but she has been a screenwriter for fifteen years and this novel has clearly benefitted from her background: it 'flows' cleanly from beginning to end. Characters are swiftly delineated, minor details gain significance, and the reader experiences the point of view of several characters, including Lewis, Kit and some rather less sympathetic figures. These changes are managed very smoothly and the actual reading experience is very easy.
When the tragedy occurred early on, I found Lewis' responses utterly convincing. This worked well to create a bond between the reader and the character which allowed me to develop sympathy for Lewis that sustained my involvement in the rest of the novel. For a book like this to work you have to care deeply about the central protagonist. Fortunately, Jones has handled the narrative in such a way that it is impossible not to feel for Lewis.
This does mean that his father, Gilbert, comes across at points as being almost inhuman in his harshness and some critics have suggested that Jones misses a trick by failing to explain his cold behaviour. I would argue that his behaviour is adequately explained by the era and his time spent at war. Besides which, developing more sympathy for Gilbert would surely have reduced feeling for Alice (his new, young wife) and Lewis.
Perhaps a more significant problem is the portrayal of Dicky Carmichael (Kit's father), who also lacks an explicit justification for his rather more brutal approach. However, he is essentially a bully who is enabled by the social mores of the period. Once again, this lack of development of his character means that we view him from Kit's perspective and it enhances our sympathy for her and our sense of horror at the hypocrisy in this society. I do not see these omissions as flaws in Jones' writing; rather I think they are sensible decisions which focus a reader's sympathy on the children, who gradually become a symbol of hope.
Both fathers become more distasteful as the novel develops and their strictures (Gilbert) and behaviour (Dicky) become more explicitly dictatorial and abusive. Jones' gradual development of their characters means that neither becomes simply a caricature and their actions are shocking without shaking the reader out of the world Jones has created.
== A warning ==
Without wishing to reveal too much of the plot, I feel readers should be warned that a self-harm theme develops in this book. While scenes depicting harm are not gratuitous, they may well make some readers feel very uncomfortable. Personally, I did find these scenes quite difficult to read and I had to put the book down and leave it for a few minutes sometimes before continuing. Obviously this will not affect all readers, but I felt that some might appreciate being made aware of this aspect of the book.
== Conclusions ==
This is easy to read in the sense that the narrative flows very smoothly. It can be quite difficult to read in the sense that the protagonist is in a lot of emotional pain throughout much of the book. I found this to be a quietly compelling read with a suitable ending. (I would have quite liked an epilogue, but the ending is fitting and could be viewed as powerful / rather melodramatic.) The main characters are very sympathetic (but, crucially, not spineless) and you really care about how their lives will develop. The claustrophobia of village life is effectively evoked, as is the enormous power our families have over us. Definitely worth reading and I will be on the lookout for 'Small Wars', her second novel.
I was looking for something a little different to read and a friend of mine recommended The Outcast by Sadie Jones. It is this author's first novel (although she has now written another) and it had been short listed for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction in 2008, as well as being recommended by Richard and Judy. I was so glad that she lent it to me though, as I thoroughly enjoyed every single word and read the entire book in a matter of days.
The Outcast is a truly moving and poignant book. The Daily Mail described it as 'devastatingly good' and I find myself agreeing with this most apt of descriptions. It is in many ways a devastating book and it is very sad as it follows the life of Lewis Aldridge, a victim of circumstances, who becomes more and more of an outcast as the novel unfolds.
There is a prologue at the start of the book when the reader meets Lewis just as he is being released from prison as a nineteen year old. At this point we do not know his crime or how prison has affected him - this is only revealed later as the story moves back in time.
The novel is set in the nineteen forties and fifties and starts when Lewis is quite a small boy and his father is returning home after the war. Life changes quite dramatically as Lewis and his father are pretty much like strangers and they enter an uneasy relationship. Things really deteriorate though when Lewis is ten and his mother tragically dies. From then on, no one knows quite how to treat him and that is the start of him being an outcast. Life is not helped by the fact that Lewis and his family live in a small village and move in a well-to-do circle. Also back in those days, people's way of dealing with difficult issues was to apparently ignore them which means that Lewis has no one to talk to and is in no way encouraged to talk about his feelings. As a consequence, his behaviour becomes more extreme and his former friends shun him all the more. It is a desperately sad situation and I felt quite helpless as I was reading, for I could see what was happening and could only watch in despair.
I do not want to reveal too much of the plot by saying what happens only that there are a few events that seem to act as a catalyst for Lewis as he grows older. The sense of isolation that he experiences comes across brilliantly and you really feel for this lost damaged boy that no one apparently understands. There is only one person in the village though who has any belief in Lewis though and that is a young girl called Kit. However, her lone voice is quite ineffectual in sticking up for him when everyone else is so set against him, particularly her father Dicky. This man is a particularly obnoxious character who is always goading Lewis and trying to get him to react in violent ways, when all the time, when he is at home behind closed doors, his behaviour to his wife and his daughters is most extreme. Because it is the fifties though when men ruled the roost, the women of the house say nothing and do not complain. This was a most thought provoking issue that ran through the book.
I think that the book works particularly well because of the age in which it is set. Even though it was only about fifty years ago, the way people treat each other and how they think are so very different these days. It is a powerful insight into how society worked only a few decades ago and I found this fascinating although, reading through my twenty first century eyes, I was also aghast that such behaviours would be tolerated in the way that they were.
I thought that The Outcast was a beautifully written book that drew the reader in from the very start and made one want to keep on reading. There is a gentle pace to the book, which is split up into sections. It starts with the prologue where Lewis is leaving prison and returning home. It then moves back in time to tell the story where bit by bit we see Lewis become an outcast and find out what he did in order to be sent to prison aged only seventeen. As the story moves forward in time, it moves beyond the time of the release so there is also a certain section of the book that happened after that point.
All the characters are described and developed well and one can't help feeling that they are all, to varying degrees, victims of their time. Lewis's father Gilbert is very much the 'stiff upper lip' type and is more concerned about what others think rather than how his son is feeling; his stepmother Alice wants to help but does not know how; Kit is young, naive and idealistic but is so dominated by her father's views; her sister Tamsin is frivolous and energetic but knows how to play the game as far as her father is concerned. There are so many great characters in this book and I have only mentioned a few of my favourites. The best though is Lewis who grows up throughout the book and quietly suffers but also behaves more extremely in a cry for help - which never seems to come.
It is essentially a book about growing up but being different and it is at times incredibly sad but also in some ways uplifting. It is well worth reading and I am now keen to see what Sadie Jones' second novel is like too.
The paperback is currently available on Amazon for only £4.79 and as it has almost 450 brilliant pages that seems to be pretty good value to me!
The Outcast - Sadie Jones
Description: Author: Sadie Jones / Genre: Fiction
I was given this book as a birthday present last week and couldn't wait to start reading it. The cover proudly told me that the novel was the winner of the Costa First Novel Prize so I had high hopes that it would be a powerful read.
This number one bestseller begins in 1957 and young man called introduces us to a Lewis Aldridge. Lewis has just been released from prison having served a two year sentence. The crime behind this prison sentence is not revealed until later in the book.
There is nobody at the gates to meet Lewis upon his release and so he has to make his own way back to his home, which is in Waterford, Surrey. Lewis arrives home to find that his stepmother and father are far from pleased to see him, which echoes the sentiments of the rest of their village. The one exception to this is 15 Kit Carmichael, the daughter of his fathers boss.
As the story unwinds, it takes us back to the young Lewis who was just ten years old when his mother tragically drowned. She and Lewis had been having a picnic and he has encouraged her to dive for a rudder submerged in the river. His mother was described as drinking more than most people and had consumed a bottle of wine before the accident.
Following the accident, Lewis is forced to endure his father retreating from him emotionally and quickly marrying again. The era that this book is written in is well described, with the typical English stoicism appearing bewildering and hurtful to the young child that is Lewis. He feels more and ore isolated and unable to cope with the feelings he has, resorts to violence, alcohol and self injury as a way of dealing with the pain and anger that he experiences.
There is something unusually poignant about this book that makes your heart ache for the child who has lost his mother. Instead of being offered the support that he so clearly needs, he is treated like a pariah by the other members of the village which causes him to lash out more, hurting both himself and others. The issue of self harm is something that I have never heard mentioned in a book from the fifties before and can make for uncomfortable reading.
Lewis is obviously a distressed and disturbed young man and one cannot help but feel that the right intervention might have made all the difference. As it is, the only person who seems able to see the good in him is Kit, who he pushes away to the point of almost losing her.
I am not going to tell you how this book turns out so as not to spoil the plot for you. I will explain that it was beautifully written and covers many dark subjects without sensationalising or downplaying them. There is something a little haunting about this book which will stick in your mind for some time after reading. The images that it creates of life in the fifties are very real and at times, quite brutal. The shocking events described balance well with the deep and moving emotions and the book is well paced, hurtling towards a satisfying ending.
I have had this book on my bookshelf for quite a while, and finally got to it this week. I'd read some very positive reviews on it, knew it had been a Richard & Judy book club book and had been both won and been shortlisted for awards, so was looking forward to it and had quite high expectations.
~ The Plot ~
The book begins in 1957 and Lewis Aldridge has just been released from prison (for a crime we are not told of until later in the book) and is making his way back to his home town of Waterford in Surrey. It appears that no-one in the village is pleased to hear of his return, least of all his own father and step mother, apart from 15 year old Kit Carmichael. It's very clear from the opening pages that Lewis is a disturbed young man.
The book then covers two different time frames. That of a younger Lewis and then later a pre-prison Lewis. We find out how the return of his father from WW2 a stranger, the death of his beloved mother and introduction of a very young step mother Alice affect the young Lewis, and how the consequences will affect a whole community.
~ My Review ~
It's probably inevitable when you have high expectations of a book that you will at times be disappointed by it, and unfortunatly for me this was one of those times.
The book began well enough for me. Lewis is it once deep and brooding and an air of mystery surrounds the reason he was in prison. I was intrigued by his cool reception on his return home to his upper/middle class village and immediately felt the claustrophobic and secretive atmosphere of the era.
Returning to his childhood, It was easy to sympathise with Lewis very early on. When his father returns from war, he doesn't know him and finds him aloof, a man who believes in repressing feelings and keeping up appearances. This is in stark contrast to his Mother, who is carefree and showers him with love, despite having a problem with alcohol. When his mother drowns with Lewis as the only witness, his father does not want to know his grief and sends him straight to boarding school. Only a short few months later Alice is introduced as his new mother.
I felt real compassion for the young Lewis, and wanted to just wrap him up and protect him myself. I felt angry with his Father and wanted to just scream at him to just hug his son. I feel the author did a fantastic job of recreating the attitudes of the era, and it was easy to imagine his Father, keeping a stiff upper lip and Lewis falling apart.
Alcoholism is a major theme within the book. Both his Mother and Step Mother have problems with alcohol, and eventually Lewis. I liked the way that this was tackled. Lewis's family are upper middle class, and socialise with the 'Lord of the Mannor' Dicky Carmichael. The author destroys the image of glamour and elegance of afternoon tea parties and gives them a dark edge because of the secrets the reader is aware of lurking underneath.
The book also tackles self harm and domestic violence. I personally found the depiction of self harm quite difficult to read, perhaps because I have first hand experience. I found it to be very graphic, and while I could understand why Lewis did it, felt the author used self harming for shock factor and didn't delve into the emotions behind it. It left me feeling very uncomfertable.
The story is told in the third person and we also get the perspective of Lewis's family and neighbours. I found most of the characters extremely dislikeable, but very well drawn and believable. I enjoyed Kit Carmichael, who has always idolised Lewis from being a young girl and was a kindred spirit in that she is also an outcast from her own family. I really could relate to and sympathise with this character.
By the second part of the book I was finding it difficult at times. The writing is very stilted in parts and became droning in tone, meaning I found myself skimming a lot of the book. It's also very dreary and depressing. I'm not the type of reader who likes fluffy happy ever after, and am quite able to read about difficult subjects, however I just found this book had no light or hope whatsoever. I was intrigued by the story enough to carry on, and had connected with the main character, Lewis, enough to care what was going to happen to him. However it was a book I could easily put down and was in no hurry to return to.
~ Conclusion ~
I did find this book disappointing. It isn't that I found it a terrible read, while I don't think enjoy is the right word I was certainly intrigued and drawn in through a good three quarters. However at times I found it utterly depressing and occassionally uncomfertable. The writing style became plodding and stilted in places and I found it easy to dip in and out, barely reading large chunks of text but not feeling I missed anything in particular.
I enjoyed the depiction of middle class life in suburban England in the fifties. I felt the author recreated the oppression and stifling attitudes very well. I also enjoyed Lewis and particularly Kit, and found all of the characters easy to imagine and believable.
Perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind, or perhaps I found the graphic descriptions of self harm too close to home to enjoy the book as others have. I did feel some relief at finishing it and being able to move onto something else, as it did leave me feeling heavy hearted while reading it.
Sadie Jones was a screen writer for BBC television and this is her first novel. I actually think this would be a great TV drama, I can imagine it on TV and can even imagine possible actors for the parts. Personally I think I would enjoy that more than the book.
Overall, I'd say this book was ok. I won't read it again, some images will remain with me but I'm afraid the vast majority won't. I would recommend giving it a go if your interested in reading it, but perhaps not as light reading or if your feeling particularly depressed.
~ Other Information ~
The Outcast by Sadie Jones
My edition was published by Vintage Books in 2007
I bought my copy in a charity shop, RRP is £7.99
This is by far one of the best books I have read. It tells the story of young Lewis, who after his mother's death goes completely off the rails. We know early on that he gets sent to prison, but you dont find out why until later on in the book. He returns to his father and stepmother, who are less than keen to have him back. It tells of his relationship with his childhood friend Kit, who's father beats her and her mother, and the troubles that the older Lewis has with his stepmother and trying to impress his father. It is ultimately about breaking free from the contrainsts of the fifties. Its such a fantastic storyline, you wont be able to put it down. There's just enough characters to keep the plot going, but being so few we get a real insight into each one of them and thats what makes this book great.
I've just finished reading this book, and I have to say it is one of the saddest books I have ever read - heres why.
**~~THE PLOT ~~**
The Outcast is about a boy called Lewis Aldridge and his life in a small town outside of London post WWII. The book begins with Lewis leaving prison at the age of 19 for a crime we are not yet told of to head home to his family. We are then taken back to Lewis' childhood beginning when his father returns from war and things take a dramatic change for Lewis.....
Despite their middle class surroundings and the return of her husband, Gilbert, from war, Lewis' mother is bored and lonely, she loves her son and her husband dearly but almost detests their middle class life and quite often turns to drink - at parties as well as on her own in the middle of the day. Tragedy strikes when she dies unexpectedly in Lewis' company when he is just 10 years old and this changes both Lewis and his fathers life forever.
Without telling the whole plot, this book shows the total hypocrasy of society during this time. Lewis' mothers death starts off a tragic chain of events for Lewis which make him, as the title of the book suggests, an Outcast in society. His home life goes from bad to worse as, unable to cope with his mothers death, he becomes estranged from his father in his grief and gets deeper into trouble. Lewis' choices throughout the novel are saddening - it is not the kind of society where you ask for help especially if you are a young man and therefore as a reader I was often left saddened by his actions.
**~~OTHER CHARACTERS ~~**
The hypocrasy that I mentioned comes in the form of the Carmichael family. The quiet and restrained life of the Aldridges are contrasted perfectly with their friends, the Carmichaels. Dicky Carmichael is Gilbert Alrdridges boss - as much as Gilbert is restrained and quiet, Dicky is loud and brash. They have a rich life, Dicky and Claire have two daughters Tamsin and Kit but their family life too holds secrets. When Lewis' confused actions are known to their community, it is Dicky that rallies the community against Lewis and his family, despite the terrible ugly secrets that he himself has with his family.
Kit Carmichael is a delightful character. As the youngest daughter of the Carmichaels, she has been in love with Lewis since she was a young girl and this is the heart warming thread to this book.
Kit is a strong, intelligent and extremely loveable character. She too has had a tough childhood and sees the light and good in Lewis when everyone else in their society want to turn their backs on him.
I have to say that I almost read this book with a heavy heart. it is written beautifully - Sadie Jones' descriptions are simplistic and beautiful and is lovely to read. However, the subject matters of violence, arson, death and self mutliation make it hard for you to feel anything but!
As a reader, my sympathy lies completely with Lewis. I often felt frustrated with his actions but maddened by the predjudices of society that make it so difficult for him to find the help he needs. This sounds pretty cryptic I know, but I dont want to reveal too much of the book! It is definitely worth reading, its compelling, dark and very saddening. However, the relationship of Kit and Lewis is almost light relief and it does bring joy that there is possibly some light at the end of the tunnel for Lewis. There is some retribution towards the conclusion of this book and it isnt that kind of tie-the-loose-ends-up kind of happy ending. Its fitting and also is welcoming as a reader after the hardships that Lewis and his family have suffered.
This book should definitely be put on your book list. I remember lying in bed reading this and seeing that things were going to get worse for Lewis, I felt so strongly and so upset for him that I had to put the book down to read another day. I always think that if a book provokes emotions like that in you, its got to be good! If you are looking for something other than a light hearted read, I whole heartedly suggest giving this a go.
'The Outcast' is one of the most outstanding books I have read this year. It is the first published novel by Sadie Jones and was shortlisted for the Orange prize for fiction 2008.
The book is set between 1945-1957. The Outcast is Lewis, who loses his mother in tragic circumstances when he is ten years old. Unsurprisingly Lewis struggles to cope with this, while the reactions of his father, his friends and their neighbours all compound Lewis's grief and his inability to understand what has happened. We follow Lewis through his teenage years as his anger and confusion lead him to self-destructive behaviour in his search for comfort and peace of mind. Throughout this time two sisters, Kit and Tamsin Carmichael, both play significant parts in Lewis's life.
The style of Sadie Jones's writing is quite straighforward and I found this easy to read. I felt a lot of sympathy for Lewis but also for the other characters too. Even when Lewis or others behave cruelly or unjustly I felt Sadie Jones had explained the motivation for them doing so. I thought the writer was very perceptive in how she handled the characters and the story. I was always hoping Lewis would find the answers he needed, though there is some tension throughout the book as Lewis's behaviour spirals increasingly out of control and it becomes hard to see how his story might end happily.
This is quite a dark sort of read, but I enjoyed it very much and would be tempted to read it again at some point.
The paperback is £7.99 in the shops but I had it as part of a 3 for 2 offer in Waterstones.
Nineteen year old Lewis Aldridge is released from prison - for an offence we aren't fully informed of until much later in the book - and returns to Waterford, his childhood home where his stepmother is nervously expecting him. He receives a frosty welcome not just from his stepmother and his father, Gilbert, but from most of the residents of the village. Only two are remotely pleased to see him, and for very different reasons.
Sisters Tamsin and Kit Carmichael couldn't be more different. Kit lives in the shadow of her lively and attractive older sister; she is the one who takes the beatings from their brutal father while Tamsin is the apple of his eye. Tamsin starts to take an interest in Lewis and in doing so provokes the rage of her father.
To explain why Lewis's return has isolated his family, the reader is taken back to Lewis's childhood when, as an eight year old, he witnessed the death by drowning of his mother during the summer holidays. As soon as term began again, Gilbert sent Lewis back to his boarding school and, separated, each was forced to deal with his grief alone. After only a few months Gilbert introduced Lewis to Alice, a woman many years younger than himself who he intended to marry. This rapid chain of events transformed a happy go lucky little boy into a confused and lonely young man.
Set in the late 1940s through to the late 1950s, 'The Outcast' tackles an age old subject but one that perceived quite differently then from today. Some of the issues - alcoholism and self-harming - are ones that are talked about quit openly these days but in the 1950s they were taboo (self-harming was not even widely head of at the time).
The social class and upbringing of the families involved further add to the air of secrecy around mental health problems as the 'stiff upper lip' attitude prevails .When Gilbert seeks professional advice he can hardly bear to admit his family has problems and resents even the most general questions the psychiatrist asks him.
The major elements of the story revolve around a society and individual relationships that are very different from those we recognise today. When Gilbert returns home from North Africa after the war he barely knows his son and is more interested in his beautiful wife than getting to know Lewis. With Gilbert at work all day, his alcohol dependent wife knows she'll find it more difficult to cope when Lewis goes off to school; with just the two of them together for so long Elizabeth had been able to exercise some degree of control over her drinking but she fears that being entirely alone during the day will rid her of the reasons she had not to drink all day. Gilbert insists on sending Lewis away, however, because it is what is expected of people like them.
It's a similar story in the Carmichael household but here it's domestic violence that is the family secret. In the days when women didn't think twice about a beating from an 'overworked' husband, attitudes were very different from today.
These subjects are not uncommon in contemporary literature but are usually tackled quite differently, mainly because attitudes have (largely) changed. Most people believe it is wrong for a husband to beat his wife and, while many people still fear people with mental health problems, it is easier for people to get the support they need.
As a novel dealing with these issues at a specific time and place 'The Outcast' is a terrific success. In her debut novel Sadie Jones has captured the austerity and the concerns of the 1950s perfectly. It's a society where a husband can pretend to be unaware of his wife's alcoholism so long as she manages to put tasty meals on the table with only a ration book and some creativity at her disposal. Particularly striking were the descriptions of the jazz clubs of Soho where Lewis spends his evenings to escape the tension of sitting in silence with Gilbert and Alice.
Where the novel falls down in its response to the issues it raises. We know that Lewis cuts himself and while he quite eloquently describes how that makes him feel, there is no response to this. Gilbert tells the psychiatrist what his son does but he doesn't ask why, not does the psychiatrist offer any explanation. Of course, it is not necessarily the duty of a novelist to educate or campaign but I did find her approach disappointingly one-sided.
In spite of its bleakness I found this a compelling read though an uneasy one that made me feel a little voyeuristic; at times it read like the literary equivalent of 'road-crash television'. This was in part the result of the narrative style; the story is told as a third person narrative but primarily from the point of view of Lewis though there are plenty of opportunities to see things from the point of view of the other characters. Learning from Kit what is really going on in the Carmichael house makes the scenes where the Carmichael's hold their extravagant parties more difficult to read because we know that under the surface that the odious Mr Carmichael's family is actually more dysfunctional than the one he likes to hold up for ridicule in the village.
The characterisation is a triumph; I particularly liked the contrast between the Aldridges and the Carmichaels. The Aldridges are a family shunned in their community for something ultimately beyond their control, something that would probably earn them sympathy these days. The Carmichaels however hold influence in the village, giving the impression of the perfect family while all along they are hiding a deep, dark secret.
'The Outcast' is not a novel for everyone, at first I wasn't even sure it was one for me. Initially I found the characters annoying and stilted but as I developed a bond with Lewis I found myself drawn into the story and wanting to know how the story would develop.
There are no surprises in 'The Outcast' although that's not to say it was predictable. The pleasure in reading this novel is in the skill of the author at depicting a particular kind of people at a very specific time and Sadie Jones has excelled with 'The Outcast'. I hope there will be more to come.
The Outcast by Sadie Jones has recently been highlighted due to having been included on Richard and Judy's Summer Read 2008. However many people have already read this book and voiced how superb they thought it was!
The Outcast is Sadie Jones' debut novel and follows the story of a Lewis Aldridge who feels alone in the world during the 1950's after his father comes back from the war. Him, and his childhood friend Kit Carmichael endured growing up in the 1950's, with the rules and right and wrong that was "drilled into them" through various ways. Tragedy strikes the Aldridge family and this causes Lewis to feel even more alone, isolated and unloved. Socially inept and finding relationships hard Lewis must find his place in the world, and also his voice.
The book opens in 1957 as Lewis is released from prison, however the book then moves to the beginning of Lewis problems when he was 3 or 4 and tells his story. An achingly beautiful story that is elegantly written by Jones. Critics have described the book as elegant, subtle and haunting. I couldn't agree more.
At first the book may have been a little difficult to get into but once immersed in the tale and story of Lewis I was hooked and had finished it rather too quickly! Jones picks up the fifties period with great triumph and the period is depicted in my imagination and entrenched due to Jones. The way the characters were portrayed, the ruthless baddies; the meddlers; and the misunderstood was exquisitely done. Jones has created a novel where the characters will haunt you long after you have finished.
I really liked Jones style of writing, not too descriptive, she hit the balance just correctly in my eyes. The description of relationships were really well done. The maturing of Lewis and his 'girl-friends' was very well done, and his relationship with father was also very well portrayed. The simplistic way of writing at some stages of the book was very well done and really helped me to pick up the frosty atmosphere that she was trying to create.
One little thing that niggled me at times was the speaking parts of chapters. At times it was hard to keep up with who was saying what when it wasn't stated! But apart from that its all good with the outcast!
Many books fall down at the ending, but the Outcast ends perfectly. The final sentence sums up Lewis' journey beautifully and allows the book to finish with a fine flourish of writing.
Overall I really enjoyed this book, and I bet it is perfect to take on holiday! The book i felt had similarities to that of Notes on an Exhibition and others like that. Not a gripping tale of murder or anything, but you get gripped by the characters lives, feelings and relationships.
Well done Jones.
The book is 441pages long and published by vintage books.
£3.86 off amazon at the moment!
Jones was shortlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction this year with her book, The Outcast!
I was lucky enough to receive this proof copy from Waterstones, the second such book I have received from them, so I felt quite lucky when this one arrived at my house! I will be honest and say that this is not the sort of novel I would go for, as you can see from my other book reviews, but I wanted to read it with an open mind, and I did actually enjoy it in the end!
Sadie Jones is an upcoming author and The Outcast is her first novel. I am always a bit wary of debut novels as sometimes they are not the authors best, but I made sure I had no pre-conceptions about this. I couldn't find out much more about the author, except that she lives in London, so that's all I can say really!
Now to the book itself. One of the things I was not keen on was the fact that the book is set in the 1950's, I am not normally a fan of books set in the past so this made me feel a bit apprehensive. It follows the life of Lewis Alridge in several parts, which is what made the novel so enjoyable to me. We find out all the things about Lewis that you would want to know, find out why he is like he is, and also find out a bit about the neighbours who live near him.
We join the book to find out that Lewis has been in prison, although we are not told why that is. In fact, we don't find out why until around halfway through the book, another fact which also keeps you reading. We meet the characters of Alice, Lewis' stepmother, and Gilbert, his father. Clearly all is not well in the Aldridge household, and we find out why as the book progresses. After this short prologue, we are taken to Part 1, which tells us the story of a 10 year old Lewis, and the tragedy which he has to overcome at such a young age. Also, Lewis has to deal with his father returning from war, and the change of dynamics at home between him, his mother and his father.
Part 2 is a teenage Lewis, when he is around 14 years old onwards, and Lewis is clearly a troubled teen, struggling with his father and his new step-mother. He is causing trouble and his family and friends are unsure of how to deal with it. In this part we find out why Lewis is in prison, and how he has to deal with what he has done and the exclusion of his family and friends because of his deed.
Part 3 goes back to the eldest Lewis, the one we met at the start of the book who has just been released from Prison. It moved slowly through Lewis' latter years, developing the unsure relationship between Gilbert and Lewis well, and a shocking twist involving Alice and Lewis, something you do not expect at all. This part was quite shocking, and came to an appropriate end which felt right for the book.
As I said, I was unsure of this book as it is not the sort of thing I would read, but I was pleasantly surprised. The author has captured living in a middle-class family in a post-war England superbly, describing life in a rural country home well, as well as the contrast with Lewis' visits to London well enough to believe what you are reading could be true.
Although I found the characters were well-written I do not feel that the author went into enough depth with them, especially some of the less major characters, although ones which are still important to the storyline. This could be as this is the author's first book, and is certainly something she could improve on in the future. Lewis' character was well written, and at all times focused on him and his feelings, but I felt the characters of Gilbert and Alice were somewhat open in places and I felt they could have been explored a bit more.
Some of the other characters were well written too, and I enjoyed very much the characters of Kit and Tamsin, the Carmichael sisters who lived down the road from the Aldridges. They are polar opposites yet both keep terrible secrets about their father, and it is this secret which unites the sisters. Also, there is an intriguing character called Jeanie who appears in the London scene who clearly plays a big part in Lewis' life and I wish we had gotten to know a bit more about her.
Some of the themes in the book were a bit shocking to me, and were quite graphic. There were some scenes of self-harms which were quite disturbing to read, although I do feel that the author got into the mindset of a person who could do that to themselves quite well, and although the scenes were shocking to read, they were intriguing and I felt they weren't out of place in the book. Also, some violent scenes were a little hard to read, and actually made me physically recoil from the book, but I do suppose beatings were more common in families 50 years ago that they are these days, although this didn't make it any easier to read.
So, what is my overall opinion? This is a very good debut novel which explores very well the period in which it is written, and the author does so with a real authenticity of the period, clearly showing her good esearch. Characters sometimes felt a bit weak, although not so much so that it ruined the novel and the leading character was well written throughout. The story is great, and has a good natural progression about it which makes it incredibly readable. I enjoyed the fact that the the book was split into periods of Lewis' life, and this enabled you to distinguish between the times in his life, and made it easy to follow. I also enjoyed how the author told the story mainly through Lewis but occasionally through Kit, and this added a different perspective and change of pace. A very good debut novel and one I did actually enjoy, despite not being sure when I read the description! Well worth a read for people who enjoy fiction written about times gone by.
ISBN: 9780701181758. Published by Chatto & Windus. The hardback edition will contain 352 pages, and is due for release on February 7th 2008. RRP is £12.99 although you can pre-order it on Amazon for £8.57.
Thank you for reading.
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' 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.