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The Outcast
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2008
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.

Upon his return and faced with the prospect of finding employment, Gilbert signs on to work for his neighbour, the building magnate Dicky Carmichael, a course and angry man whose presence always seems to set Gilbert's teeth on edge. Although the prospects of making money in the post-war building boom looks positive, Gilbert's only real consolation is that he is grateful for the love of the clever and lovely Elizabeth, her wilful ways and her own way of looking at things, providing the perfect antidote to a life of hard and furious work.

But it is these essential and formative years that seem to be a precurser for what is to some, especially for Lewis. It is also an afternoon picnic in the woods down by the river when everything goes terribly wrong and life for Lewis changes forever, the devastating event unleashing a dormant anger within him. It is here by under the shade fo the weeping willows, the heat of summer almost stifling that Lewis is left to see his mother - her paleness, and then her form becoming merely a dark shadow where her head is, her body under water but not moving.

In the months afterwards, Lewis and Gilbert remain in a type of trategic limbo. Gilbert enters the world of cocktails and London parties, going from one occasion to another, discovering a new type of popularity, and eventually marrying Alice, a dependable but needy blond who seems to do nothing else but feed his ego. Meanwhile, neither father or son go about their lives ever mentioning Elizabeth or the events of that devastating day, the silence around her memory brittle and almost dangerous.

It is here that the plot of The Outcast takes an unusual turn, as author Sadie Jones involves her damaged protagonist ever more in the affairs of the Carmichael's and Dickie Carmichael's impressionable young daughters, Tasmin and Kit who find themselves ever more attracted to their tempestuous neighbour. But it's the connection that Lewis forms Kit that proves to be his ultimate undoing even as Gilbert is forced to shoulder the results of Lewis's truancy, the breaking of a boy's nose, the willful drinking, all of this embarrassment and publicness making him helpessly angry and at a loss to know what to do with his son.

Like a damaged bird, Jones plays out this broken young boy's journey amongst the English rich and priviledged. Lewis's life after Elizabeth is filled with very little love or affection as slowly he shuts emotionally down and is cast off from his family, and labelled as a trouble-maker by Dickie Carmichael, and the wider Waterford community. Throughout this novel, Lewis's voice is deliberately narratively flat, perhaps to reflect Lewis' emotionally closed vacumm, the story circumscribed by his strong capacity for denial - at Elizabeth's untimely death and at his place in the world of the Aldridges.

Indeed, his drinking and self-mutilation seems to insulate him from the complex realities of his family and from the responsibilties of life. Although somewhat cliched and predictable, especially during the final third, nevertheless readers will find this tortured story enticing with a narrative that is always compelling. Jones' reimagining of 50's upper-class British life adds a new dimension to the old standbys of misunderstood young men, ambitious executives, abusive fathers, and brittle but tenacious stepmothers, even as she brings the stulifying hyocracies and strictures of the time to life. Mike Leonard April 2008
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 6, 2009
This is a depressing book, but a very well written one. A spare, straight forward prose that draws you in completely and makes it a page turner. The story (no spoilers here) revolves around Lewis, a 19 year-old who has just been released from prison. When he was very young, a terrible, traumatic event changed his life forever. He may be the central character but some others are very important too.

The setting is the beautiful English countryside in the 1950's. Behind the façade, the local (upper class) community is often less than respectable. Behind the façade, the smiles, the cheers, everyone has a personal demon to deal with. Lewis especially, but certainly not only. After he is released from prison (and before that too), most people distrust and dislike him openly. He does not seem to belong anywhere any longer. Life starts crumbling away and not only his. His family has an essential part in the story, as well as some of his neighbours. Peripheral characters in the background are also extremely fitting, meaning that everything and everyone perfectly conveys the sense of false morality, false rectitude lingering all the time. The question is, will something happen to shake and rattle "things"? You bet it does. A subtle tension is felt all the time and it is an escalation of distraught feelings, delivered by a simple, clear narrative. You FEEL for those who suffer, and wish it would stop. And you keep your fingers crossed for something to go well.

A distressing but extremely engaging novel, my true vote would be 4 ' stars, well done to the author.
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