February 2, 2008 archive

The Outcast – Book Review

If one didn’t mention a thing afterwards, it was as if it hadn’t happened. -From The Outcast, page 76-

Sadie Jone’s debut novel – The Outcast – is a disturbing and provocative story about loss, adolescent struggle for understanding, familial relationships and secrets, and finally redemption.

When ten year old Lewis Aldridge loses his mother to a tragic accident, he finds himself on the outside of his father’s love and understanding. Wrapping himself in a cloak of silence, and converting his grief to anger, Lewis detaches himself from his friends and family. Eventually, Lewis’ anger boils over and he lashes out at not only himself, but a community which has turned against him. 

The novel actually begins with Lewis’ release from prison after serving two years for his crime,  then rewinds to his childhood to show the reader Lewis’ relationship with his mother, the carefree Lizzie; and his cold and distant father, Gilbert. After Lizzie’s death, Lewis’ father remarries the younger Alice – a woman whose floundering self-esteem and desire to be “liked” results in further alienation of her stepson. The community where Lewis grows up is filled with damaged characters – all who believe primarily in “appearances,” while harboring dark secrets. The Carmichael family (with the violent Dicky, and his two daughters and ineffective wife) parallel the lives of the Aldridges.

Jones deliberately sets down the story of Lewis’ early years, casting the narrative in an all seeing omniscient voice which gives the reader a sense of impending doom.  By the time the reader has caught up to the present with Lewis returning home after his imprisonment,  the story has taken on a pace of its own. The layers of Lewis’ psyche begin to unfold, and the closely held secrets of the characters are exposed.

Jones weaves her story with the careful precision of architect The characters – who are not terribly likable – demand to be read. The cruelty heaped upon Lewis seems interminable. And there were moments when I wanted to scream at his uncaring father and insipid stepmother. The intertwined lives of all the characters seem too broken and damaged to be mended, but Jones ultimately leaves the reader with the hope of understanding and redemption.

The result of all of this is an emotionally driven and powerful novel which is compulsively readable. I can recommend this debut by Sadie Jones for readers who enjoy a character driven novel which explores the deeper meaning behind what it means to be human.

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