The Outcast is the story of Lewis Aldridge, a
troubled nineteen-year-old just returning to his family
after a two-year stint in prison. Much of the book relates
the series of events that eventually lead to Lewis's arrest,
with the last third relating the aftermath of his
The novel's framework is the 1950s middle-class stereotype which both American and UK readers will find familiar. The husband goes off to work every day; the wife's chief responsibilities are to look good and meet her spouse at the door with a drink and a smile when he returns. There are parties in the garden, tennis matches on the lawn, and everyone goes to church on Sunday. Jones deftly describes these clichéd scenes, but always with an eye toward exposing the hypocrisy that lies just below the surface. Conventional events become unconventional, gradually fading from light into darkness and violence. Because the reader is so familiar with the stereotype, they have an expectation of how the scene should play out. One of Jones's talents is taking that expectation and completely shattering it.
It's difficult to read this book from a modern viewpoint, as so much of what takes place in it would be unacceptable by today's standards. Knowing the escalating crises portrayed in the novel would likely be avoided (or at least ameliorated) today makes the reader almost painfully uncomfortable as one error in judgment leads to the next. It very nearly becomes overwhelming. The reader empathizes so completely with the main characters that there is a temptation to abandon the book, rather than see the situation deteriorate still further.
While much of the plot is banal, much of the writing is extraordinary. Overall, The Outcast is a promising debut novel. Jones's style is spare, yet detailed. Writing from an omniscient viewpoint, the author narrates the various characters' thought processes with incredible authenticity. One of the resonances is her portrayal of internal "conversations" the various characters have with themselves. They know they should do or say something to improve the situation but then their own issues distract them or the moment passes, and they do nothing. Indeed, Lewis's decline is due as much to inaction as to action.
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.
About the Author
Sadie Jones was born in London, England, the daughter of a poet and an actress. Her father, Evan Jones, was born in Portland, Jamaica in 1927. He grew up on a banana farm, eventually moving to the United States, and from there to England in the 1950s. His most widely acclaimed work is "The Song of the Banana Man". Sadie's mother, Joanna Jones, was featured as an extra in various television series, including The Avengers.
As a young woman, Sadie opted out of attending university, preferring instead to work an assortment of odd jobs (video production, temping, waiting tables) and to travel. After visiting America, the Caribbean and Mexico, Sadie settled in Paris, where she taught English and wrote her first screenplay. She eventually moved to London, where she currently resides with her husband, architect Tim Boyd, and their two children.
Sadie wrote screenplays for fourteen years before producing The Outcast, her first novel. Her writing credits are an eclectic mix, everything from episodes of BBC-TV shows to a feature film in 2004.
This review was originally published in April 2008, and has been updated for the April 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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