Summary and book reviews of The Outcast by Sadie Jones

The Outcast

By Sadie Jones

The Outcast
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2008,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2009,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

A mesmerizing portrait of 1950s hypocrisy and unexpected love, from a powerful new voice

It is 1957, and Lewis Aldridge, straight out of prison, is journeying back to his home in Waterford, a suburban town outside London. He is nineteen years old, and his return will have dramatic consequences not just for his family, but for the whole community.

A decade earlier, his father's homecoming has a very different effect. The war is over and Gilbert has been demobilized. 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 is dealt by her own father's hand. Lewis's 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 foresee the painful and horrifying secrets that must first be forced into the open.

In this brilliant debut, Sadie Jones tells the story of a boy who refuses to accept the polite lies of a tightly knit community that rejects love in favor of appearances. Written with nail-biting suspense and cinematic pacing, The Outcast is an emotionally powerful evocation of postwar provincial English society and a remarkably uplifting testament to the redemptive powers of love and understanding.

Chapter One
1945

Gilbert was demobbed in November and Elizabeth took Lewis up to London to meet him at the Charing Cross Hotel. Lewis was seven. Elizabeth and he got onto the train at Waterford and she held his hand firmly so that he wouldn't fall when he climbed up the high step. Lewis sat next to the window and opposite her, to watch the station get small as they pulled away, and Elizabeth took off her hat so that she could rest her head against the seat without it getting in the way.

The seat was itchy against Lewis's bare legs between his shorts and his socks and he liked the way it was uncomfortable and the way the train moved from side to side. There was a feeling of specialness; his mother was quiet with it and it changed the way everything looked. They had a secret between them and they didn't need to talk about it.

He looked out of the window and wondered again if his father would be wearing his uniform and, if he were, if he would have a ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

In this brilliant debut, Sadie Jones tells the story of a boy who refuses to accept the polite lies of a tightly knit community that rejects love in favor of appearances. Written with nail-biting suspense and cinematic pacing, The Outcast is an emotionally powerful evocation of postwar provincial English society and a remarkably uplifting testament to the redemptive powers of love and understanding.


Questions for Discussion

  1. Sadie Jones worked as a screenwriter for fifteen years—do you think this is reflected in her writing?
  2. Do you think Gilbert is jealous of Lizzie and Lewis's strong bond?
  3. "He thought there must be something wrong with a person who would rather be in Brixton ...

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  • award image

    Costa Book Awards
    2008

Reviews

BookBrowse

Many of Jones's characterizations are one-dimensional. Almost all the adults are cardboard representations of some character type: the distant father, the alcoholic mother, the bully, the abused wife. There are no surprises here; each acts as one would expect. The exception is the insight and depth with which Jones draws her protagonist, Lewis. Her development of this character is nothing short of brilliant. She manages to capture all the uncertainty and conflicting emotions inherent in teenagers in general, along with Lewis's particular anguish -- yet she does so without over sentimentalizing. She explains the impetus for his bad behavior, but does not justify it. Lewis is in pain, he's confused, but he doesn't come across as a victim. It's a fine balance, one that Jones achieves perfectly.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (979 words).

Media Reviews
The Telegraph - Heather Thompson

Occasionally, her simplicity of style loses some of its subtlety (usually when Jones is writing about men) ..... These flawed characterisations underline the refinement of the rest of the novel; but it does seem a bit of a shame to expend so much delicacy on brutal beatings and tormented psyches.

The Independent - Hermione Eyre

This hotly-tipped debut certainly delivers. The prose is clean and clear; so disciplined and spare it verges on thin. Then, sporadically, a kind of fever comes over the novel, and we plunge into one dramatic episode or another: self-harm, incestuous seduction, arson, battery, drowning... These scenes are handled with great skill and conviction, but recur so relentlessly that you sometimes feel as if you were reading an extremely classy misery memoir – A Child Called It retold by Richard Yates, perhaps.

The Guardian - Catherine Taylor

A middle-class middle-England village in the 1950s is the setting for this controlled, insightful first novel, in which husbands commute to work in the city, depressed wives begin the cocktail hour earlier each day and domestic violence occurs in homes with impeccably manicured lawns. .... Comparisons with Ian McEwan are inevitable, but Jones's assured, compassionate writing is satisfyingly original.

The Times of London

Jones’s elegantly written debut novel brings to vivid life both her alienated and damaged protagonist and the small-minded community that condemns him.

Kirkus Reviews

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

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.

Reader Reviews
Sarah

Emotionally worn out from reading this excellent debut
This book is excellent, I strongly recommend it. It packs some strong punches and leaves you emotionally reeling in places. I had to keep putting it down and taking a deep breathe before carrying on. And I did carry on each time, as it is a ...   Read More

Sidney Fallow

It was . . .
Strange hype and accolades for a book that brings new meaning to the expression "the passive voice". Have all these reviewers ignored or missed the almost pathological use of the phrase "It was . . ." Any writer worth his or her salt knows to avoid ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Surrey

The landscape in which The Outcast is set plays a large role in the overall feel of the novel.  Much of the story takes place in the county of Surrey, just south of London.  Most of Surrey lies in the "Green Belt" (a ring of rural land around London protected from excess development), making it a popular place of residence for those commuting into London who can afford the high house prices.  With a population of about 1.1 million, Surrey is the most populated rural country in England, but there is still plentiful open space and large areas of woodland.  In fact, Surrey is the most wooded county in England, with ...

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