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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This story takes places in the 1950's in England, though much of the angst portrayed is just as common place today, no matter where you live.

We meet Lewis Aldridge at the beginning of the story, he is 19 years old and just out of prison for setting fire to a church. He is hoping for a new chance at life, a new beginning, but things are off to a rocky start with his father, right from the beginning.

The story then reverts back to Lewis' childhood. He is a happy though quiet child who enjoys his mother, Elizabeth's, company. Elizabeth is an outcast of sorts in that she tends to drink too much and is a free spirit. When her husband, Gilbert, returns from the war there is a shift in patterns at the house. They are expected to behave in a certain way and tend to him. It is obvious from the start that Gilbert is cold and distant from his son. When a tragic incident occurs and Lewis has to return home, without his mother, things get worse for Lewis and the strained relationship between father and son continues to deteriorate.

As time continues, Gilbert, the small community and even Lewis' new stepmother all consider him to be damaged. Lewis becomes even more aloof and begins to cut himself.

Kit Carmichael is the young daughter in an influential family. Her dad just happens to be Gilbert's boss as well. Kit has always liked Lewis and she wants to help him. She has her own problems to deal with in her family but she is always in Lewis' corner. Kit is actually somewhat of an outcast herself and does not agree with most of her family's observations.

When Lewis completes his stint in prison and does return home, he and Kit decide to change their situation and break free from their lives as they know it. They can no longer sit quietly and accept their roles in life.

This is a wonderfully written first novel. Its themes of war, alcoholism, emotional and physical isolation can be applied to today's world as well. No matter the time or place, the possibility of change and hope is always something to strive for.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Sadie Jones debut novel The Outcast haunts me still, days after finishing it. The novel delivers a story of love, loss, and redemption as a result of a series of situations that couldn't be helped and were no one's fault really-but irrevocably changed lives.

It's 1957 and 19-year-old Lewis Aldridge has just been released from prison. The crime was setting fire to a church. He heads to his family home simply because he has no where else to go. He's met at the door by his stepmother, Alice, who cheerfully greets him. His father, Gilbert's greeting is different. He demands Lewis drive with him to the church, to see that it has been `fixed.' Lewis is silent. The stage is set; Lewis may have hoped for a new beginning, but already things are not looking good.

We view Lewis' childhood as a flashback. His father recently returned from the war and while Lewis is happy that his father is home, he really doesn't know him. The close relationship Lewis and his mother shared while Gilbert was gone, changes. During a picnic at the river, Elizabeth, Lewis' mother drowns-and suddenly everything changes for Lewis.

Gilbert remarries within a short period of time and neither Gilbert nor Alice, the new wife, can reach the steadily retreating Lewis. The people of the community avoid Lewis, and he continues to withdraw, his anti-social behavior increasing. Two sisters, Tasmin and Kit (daughters of Lewis' boss Dicky Carmichael), are the only people who haven't ostracized Lewis.

But there is a dreadful secret in the Carmichael house, and when Lewis discovers it, he feels powerless to change things. The question is simple: can the damaged Lewis help another damaged soul?

The Outcast will leave you breathless. The characters are rich, full-bodied and well-developed. The plot is startling in both its complexity and yet the ease of putting forth a story of abuse, neglect, guilt and love. The Outcast demands you look at life and ask yourself what are the consequences of the choices we make? Every reader will, I suspect, walk away from this stunning debut with a perspective somewhat different from the next person who reads it.

Armchair Interview says: Highly recommended.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
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.

Highly recommended.

- Gail Cooke
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
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 ½ stars, well done to the author.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I read this book from start to finish in a three days. I read it while idling at red lights. I read it while waiting in front of my kids' school. I read it while my husband watched TV in bed next to me. I just couldn't put it down.

Sadie Jones creates a protagonist we care deeply about. He is a damaged boy, then young man, dangerous and frightening, and we root for him desperately throughout the story. At each turn, as things go from bad to worse, we just want him to find his way, to find SOMEONE who will acknowledge him and make him feel he has a place on this earth.

There is an improbable love story, and it is multi-layered and complicated (as all good love stories are). At the end, disaster looms and you just have to race through the pages to find out what will happen.

The prose style takes a little getting used to, but it carries you along like a strong-flowing river.

The novel really delivers. I had tears in my eyes at the end... and when I closed the last page, I was sorry it was over.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Gail Cooke's review is spot on, so I won't rehash the plot. Jones' prose is lovely. She's particularly good at the imagery of childhood, at once so practical and fanciful. Beautifully written, emotionally stunning and very highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2014
Format: Paperback
I came to Sadie Jones first novel after I had read The Uninvited Guests (5 star for me) and her 2014 novel Fallout (which will also be a 5 star, for me, when it is published - I had it as an ARC)

So I thought I'd go back to her beginning and read her first novel. She had not figured on my radar when this was published.

I suspect had I read this at the time I might have rated it a little more highly, turning it from only just reaching four star to perhaps still being four star but almost getting to five.

Jones is an accomplished writer, and what impresses more is that each book has been different, - something which she has developed, strongly in The Uninvited Guests, but also present in Fallout, is a barbed humour, an ability to capture the style of different periods, and to master different types of story and setting

In this first novel, set in a highly oppressive, commuter belt Home Counties upper-middle class setting in the 1950's, where class-lines are rigid and there is a heavy-drinking culture. Misogyny and casual brutality towards women are hidden behind closed doors. Emotional expression is constrained, repressed and subverted behind a mask of High Tory conformity, and there is a culture of tedious and lengthy church-going which has little to do with personal faith and everything to do with another medium of social control and the laying down of hours of stultifying conformity and boredom.

Jones follows the fortune of Lewis Aldridge, a highly strung little boy, with a playful effervescent, slightly dangerous mother. Like many families at that time at the end of the way, children had been born and had their early years in a world mostly often without fathers, who were away in the army. The return of the father could be difficult, as father and children were strangers to each other. Lewis loses his mother when he is still fairly young, and Elizabeth's death, combined with the stiff-upper lip culture espoused by his father, Gilbert, has a devastating effect on the small boy. Both Elizabeth herself and the manner of her death put Lewis outside the norms.

Jones is brilliant at evoking this kind of society where violence and raw pain shimmer below the tightly controlled surfaces of `good behaviour' Her ability to write truthful psychology and character are also excellent.

However, I was not completely convinced by the character of Tamsin, the eldest daughter of the most powerful family in the community, the Carmichaels. The behaviour and relationship between Tamsin and Lewis felt a little contrived (on Tamsin's side, rather than Lewis's) and I thought plot was driven at expense of character. Likewise, the denouement ending where revelation is forced, so that the messy skeletons in Carmichael cupboards can be seen by all, and there is a possibility of redemption for Lewis, just did not feel quite as well judged and believable as the earlier parts of the novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a heart breaking story of a lonely child with an unfeeling father. Lewis Aldridge is an only child who spent all of his time with his adored mother during WW2. When his father, Gilbert is demobbed at the end of the war and returns to his prewar way of conventional middle class life, he feels like an intruder in the close world of his wife and son and resents the boy's presence. When his mother drowns shortly after, Lewis has no one to comfort him and can't understand his father's reaction to his sorrow by telling him to just snap out of it, so retreats to his own silent world, learning to block out the pain and loneliness. Gilbert remarries after less than 2 years but again Lewis is left alone and friendless and resorts to violent behaviour to at least feel something. His only ally is a small girl neighbour who is in much the same boat as he and who, on reaching puberty, has to become accustomed to receiving beatings from her father, the local pillar of the community and church. It's a very emotional story and a potentially tragic one but this brilliant writer leaves the reader with the possibility that the young people will be strong enough to survive and recover from their fear, despite the wrappings of normalcy and hypocrisy which surrounds these twisted and cold parents.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
All of what's been said in previous reviews is true here. I just put down the novel, and, overall, am depressed. Lewis' hardships are real, difficult and long term. Like life. In fact this story, in a nutshell, is about society branding someone and never letting them forget it. And the domino effect of that in a small town. About not listening. About reading things into something that doesn't exist. About self-fulfilling prophecies. Very moving, but - like I said - depressing. "literature" often doesn't end happily, but realistically. I was pleased to see Lewis garner SOME joy as the last four pages played out! But he's gone off to war...where he'll probably be killed...so like life.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the similarities in the plot of this novel to "Atonement" by Ian McEwan. Both concern wartime relationships between a struggling youth and the intense daughters of his parent's employer. In each case there is a sexy older sister and a naive younger sister who loves the young man but seems to young to get his notice. In each case wrongful accusations doom the young man to social ostracization, and in both cases military service is both a punishment and an escape. Both books evoke, in differing ways, the perpective of childhood in the English countryside, with scenes of war-stressed London thrown in for diversion. If you sort of liked "Atonement" but were offended by its experimental format (in which much is revealed at the end to have been fiction written by Briony) you will probably prefer "The Outcase," which is indeed a melodrama where events unfold realistically and bleakly.
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