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AN ACHINGLY BEAUTIFUL STORY
on March 14, 2008
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. Kit is the youngest daughter who was a tag-along playmate in Lewis's childhood, often ridiculed by her older sister and ignored by the others. The Carmichael household is a dark one, harboring the secret of Dicky's domestic violence. "Dicky often hit Claire (his wife), it was a habit, and part of the pattern of the family, and it wasn't questioned between them at all."
Dicky's rage is soon vented on Kit as he beats her mercilessly, always slapping her hard across the face with an open hand so as not to leave any marks. He would beat her with a belt "until his arm felt quite tired."
Upon his return from prison Lewis finds no welcome or comfort in his home. "Very often Gilbert and Alice were fairly drunk by supper anyway, so it wasn't as bad as lunch, but sometimes the being drunk was worse - you could see what was underneath."
When Lewis learns of the abuse suffered by Kit he longs to rescue her, but feels he has no power to do so. Is it possible that one damaged individual can save another?
With lucid, affecting prose Sadie Jones carries us along to a startling yet satisfying conclusion.
- Gail Cooke