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The Outcast [Paperback]

Sadie Jones
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 10 2009 0307396681 978-0307396686
The village was asleep, with all the people behind the walls and through the windows and up the stairs of the little houses blind and deaf in their beds while anything might happen. Lewis headed down the middle of the road and he kept falling and had to remember to get back on his feet.

He reached the churchyard and stood in the dark with the church even darker above him.

–from The Outcast by Sadie Jones


It’s 1957. Nineteen-year-old Lewis Aldridge is returning by train to his home in Waterford where he has just served a two-year prison term for a crime that shocked the sleepy Surrey community. Wearing a new suit, he carries money his father Gilbert sent — to keep him away, he suspects — and a straight razor. No one greets him at the station.

Twelve years earlier, seven-year-old Lewis and his spirited mother Elizabeth are on the same train, bringing Gilbert home from war. Waterford is experiencing many such reunions, alcohol lubricating awkward homecomings and community gatherings. The most oppressive of these are the mandatory holiday parties hosted by the town’s leading industrialist Dicky Carmichael, Gilbert’s employer. With the Carmichael estate backing onto the Aldridge property, the attractive and popular Tamsin Carmichael and her precocious kid sister Kit are Lewis’s playmates, along with a gaggle of neighbourhood boys who (like Lewis) are fascinated by Tamsin. The children play thrilling and cruel games, mirroring the adults’ inebriated dysfunction.

Though pleased to be reunited with Elizabeth, Gilbert is appalled by the coddling his son has received in his absence. No longer permitted to skip church for picnics by the river, Elizabeth and Lewis are steered back under the ever-judgmental gaze of Waterford society. Lewis continues to flourish, a naturally capable golden child. But iconoclastic Elizabeth, disappointed by Gilbert’s insistence on conformity, seeks refuge in the bottle.

Then a sunny riverside picnic ends with Elizabeth dead and ten-year-old Lewis the only witness. A shattered Gilbert is incapable of providing comfort to his young son and the community of Waterford turns away from the traumatized child, now rendered a pariah by tragedy. Lewis is sent to boarding school, summoned home only for holidays. Gilbert remarries five months later to Alice, a compliant beauty who is not up to the task of parenting a damaged child.

Years pass and Lewis, now a troubled teenager, is lost in dangerous and self-harming behaviours. When an incident with a local bully causes Lewis to be even further estranged from the community, Gilbert and Alice stand idly by as Lewis is tormented by the tyrannical Dicky. Enraged, Lewis commits a shocking crime against the whole of Waterford and is sent to prison.

Two years later, upon his shamed return, the town continues to treat Lewis as an outcast. Only Tamsin’s little sister Kit, now a young woman, sees in him the golden boy he once was. She had become infatuated with Lewis years earlier when he had casually protected her from bullies and broken bicycle chains. But she now faces a much darker and more dangerous sort of bullying at the hands of her father. It is up to Lewis once again to rescue her, redeeming himself through tremendous courage and terrible sacrifice. And perhaps Kit holds the power to rescue him, too.

Winner of the Costa First Novel Award and a finalist for the prestigious Orange Prize, Sadie Jones’s The Outcast introduces us to a clear and brave new voice in British fiction. The novel is a clarion call to us all, daring us to stand up to the bullies of our world, in whatever form they may take and — above all else — to love our children.


From the Hardcover edition.

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Set in post WWII suburban London, this superb debut novel charts the downward spiral and tortured redemption of a young man shattered by loss. The war is over, and Lewis Aldridge is getting used to having his father, Gilbert, back in the house. Things hum along splendidly until Lewis's mother drowns, casting the 10-year-old into deep isolation. Lewis is ignored by grief-stricken Gilbert, who remarries a year after the death, and Lewis's sadness festers during his adolescence until he boils over and torches a church. After serving two years in prison, Lewis returns home seeking redemption and forgiveness, only to find himself ostracized. The town's most prominent family, the Carmichaels, poses particular danger: terrifying, abusive patriarch Dicky (who is also Gilbert's boss) wants to humiliate him; beautiful 21-year-old Tamsin possesses an insidious coquettishness; and patient, innocent Kit—not quite 16 years old—confounds him with her youthful affection. Mutual distrust between Lewis and the locals grows, but Kit may be able to save Lewis. Jones's prose is fluid, and Lewis's suffering comes across as achingly real. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“Set in post-WWII suburban London, this superb debut novel charts the downward spiral and tortured redemption of a young man shattered by loss. . . . Jones’s prose is fluid, and Lewis’s suffering comes across as achingly real.” Publishers Weekly

“A confident, suspenseful and affecting first novel, delivered in cool, precise, distinctive prose.” Kirkus

“[Sadie Jones] writes with shimmering intensity about Lewis’s struggle for redemption. She is particularly strong on atmosphere. . . . Jones uses small, startling phrases to convey depths of passion and information and she can make seemingly innocuous passages radiate beauty.” Sunday Telegraph

“Reads like a thriller, the tension and menace built expertly. . . . The two main characters, Lewis and Kit, are skillfully delineated and this is a powerful, promising first novel.” Financial Times (UK)

“The prose is elegant and spare but the story it reveals is raw and explosive. . . . Devastatingly good.” Daily Mail (UK)

“A wonderfully assured first novel.” The Guardian

“Jones’s elegantly written debut novel brings to vivid life both her alienated and damaged protagonist and the small-minded community that condemns him.” The Times (UK)

“In the tradition of Atonement and Remains Of The Day but in her own singularly arresting voice, Sadie Jones conjures up the straight-laced, church-going, secretly abusive middle class of 1950’s England. The Outcast is a passionate and deeply suspenseful novel about what happens to those who break the rules, and what happens to those who keep them. I loved reading this wonderful debut.” —Margot Livesey

“An assured voice, a riveting story, and an odd, wrenchingly sympathetic protagonist. I would never have imagined this was a first novel.” —Lionel Shriver
"Sadie Jones displays rare skills in her debut novel. The story of a troubled young man in post-WWII suburban London is heartbreaking and wonderful. The book evokes both the best emotions of Catcher in the Rye and the spirit of quiet rebellion of The Razor's Edge, with characters who are well written and real. I love this book." --Brooke Raby, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington

“Sadie Jones’s deliberate pacing and sometimes menacing tone–even if nothing much seems to be happening–provides her tale with its addictive mood. . . . Jones creates such a sense of impending doom that it’s nearly unbearable. . . . Fireworks are inevitable. When at last they come, they relieve the pent-up narrative tension quite gloriously, leaving us cheering our bruised outcast.” –Toronto Star

“Sadie Jones is in total control of the material. . . . With immense compassion, she expertly conveys the flood of relief that comes when a blade cuts through numbness to draw blood and pain. . . . The story is powerful, and the author has big talent.” –NOW (Toronto)

“An amazingly accomplished first novel . . . Jones has produced a taut coming-of-age novel with fresh flair.” –The Edmonton Journal

“An elegant, subtle, haunting novel that stayed with me long after I finished it. Sadie Jones has a long literary future ahead of her.” –Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring

“It’s not often that a debut novel lands with such poise, grace and artistry, yet laced with a simmering, haunting malevolence. . . . The Outcast is a dark, menacing tale of the hidden, abusive nature of the Brit mercantile elite of a half-century ago. It is a taut tale of transgression and hard-won redemption, making Lewis Aldridge an unlikely but strangely likable hero, and by a writer making a muscular debut.” –The Hamilton Spectator

“Mesmerizing. . . . [the] prose is reminiscent of D.H. Lawrence and full of marvellous touches.” –The Vancouver Sun

“Jones recognizes the power of the plain fact of things, and, as do the best practitioners of this style, excels at description when her precision allows implication to flourish in the silences.” –The Globe and Mail

“[W]hat sets this novel apart is the author’s technical skill. Trained as a screenwriter, Jones brings a dramatic arc to every scene, while her restrained prose renders the repression and sublimation at this novel’s core into something combustible.” –Georgia Straight

“With her lush writing and tantalizing sense of setting and detail, Jones has written a novel that stands apart from rote imitation, and The Outcast offers the welcome promise of a literary career of originality and distinction.” –The Boston Globe

“[The Outcast is] consistently interesting. Jones’s portrait of the claustrophobia and conformity of 1950s England is sharp and assured, a convincing illustration of the dangerous consequences of a muzzled society.” The New York Times


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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN ACHINGLY BEAUTIFUL STORY March 14 2008
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
British writer Sadie Jones has given us an amazing debut novel, an achingly beautiful story of loss, love, and redemption. She astounds with her picture of 1950s England, a Surrey where emotions roil beneath a peaceful bucolic surface. With penetrating insight and scrupulously wrought studies she traces the characters as they develop. Her portrait of a young man who almost perishes in a painful search to define himself is especially moving.

The Outcast opens as 19-year-old Lewis Aldridge is released after serving a two-year prison term for setting fire to the village church. He goes home as, in truth, he has nowhere else to go. He's hoping for a new beginning but that is not to be.

Lewis's childhood is described in a flashback to when he was 10-years-old and adapting to his father, Gilbert, being home again after the war. Prior to that time Lewis and his mother, Elizabeth, enjoyed a happy, loving relationship. She doted on him and he returned her affection. Always a shadowy figure, Gilbert, once again takes his place in the home yet remains a puzzlement to the boy.

Soon a dreadful tragedy occurs that sends Lewis into a horrific spiral of isolation, violence, and self-mutilation. Elizabeth drowns on what had begun as a happy river side picnic for Lewis and his mother. Gilbert is little solace to the boy and remarries within a year. Alice, his second wife, knows little of how to reach Lewis who is ostracized by his childhood friends. Riddled with self-hatred his behavior becomes increasingly anti-social, and he withdraws even deeper into himself.

He is virtually shunned by other villagers save for Tasmin and Kit, daughters of Gilbert's employer, Dicky Carmichael.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family secrets and self-acceptance April 4 2008
By Amy
Format:Hardcover
This novel follows the painful childhood and adolescence of Lewis Aldridge, a terribly misunderstood young man who is the tragic and unfortunate scapegoat of his very British and very middle-upper class suburban London community. Raised by his father to be obedient and restrained in all circumstances, Lewis buries his emotions and learns not to feel the pain that engulfs him after the sudden loss of his mother. Lewis handles his grief by self-destructing and committing a crime that shocks the entire upper crust community. Psychologically fragile, Lewis tries to turn his troubled past around and re-establish a relationship with his father. A subplot explores the lives of the Carmichael family, whose daughters Lewis admires and tries to befriend in his clumsy and lonely existence.

This is a book about dysfunctional families and the secrets that children keep in order to survive in an abusive home. Author Sadie Jones includes several surprising plot twists that keep the reader wondering what troubles her characters must deal with next. Jones' climactic and clever ending suggests that perhaps the outcast is not who he seems to be at the conclusion of this excellent novel. [Amy MacDougall]
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Outcast April 19 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Best book I have ever read~!!! I highly recommend~!! Well written, engrossing plot~ You'll remember the story long after you've closed the book. This is a keeper~!!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Manners, rules you could understand." April 14 2008
By Walter Hypes TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Although not without its faults, this compelling melodrama, set in 1950's England centers on a young, troubled boy and his estranged relationship with his complicated father. Although connected by blood, there is little actual love, each ensnared in a disturbing alliance of denial and falsehood, their inevitable fracture caused by an untimely and sudden accidental death. What is seen on the top of Lewis and his father, Gilbert Aldridge's life together may be serene, but beneath there lurks a dark and angry battle for survival that gradually plays out against the rigid social mores of the time.

After two years serving in Brixton Prison, Lewis Aldridge never expected to have a happy homecoming when he finally arrives back in the bucolic village of Waterford, situated deep within the Home Counties of England. Even as his step-mother, Alice lovingly prepares his room for him, Lewis assures himself that he's going to make a promise and reassure his father, Gilbert that this time, things will be very different.

Perhaps these seeds of doubt and uncertainty were sown back in 1945 when Lewis led a priviledged and rather isolated existance with his mother Elizabeth, both content to live in a type of emotional and physical vaccum with only each other for company. But when World War 2 grinds to a hault and Gilbert returns, Elizabeth hopes that now that her husband is back they can finally be a proper family and hopefully make a fresh start.

But for Lewis, post-war life with his father seems strangely flat and difficult, the sight of Gilbert constantly unfamiliar and also strangely disturbing. He finds his father's maleness oddly threatening - yes, he is exiting, and there to be adored, but he is also quite foreign and his return changes the fragile balance of the house.
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