The Outcast

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The village was asleep, with all the people behind the walls and through the windows and up the stairs of the little houses blind and deaf in their beds while anything might happen. Lewis headed down the middle of the road and he kept falling and had to remember to get ...
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Overview

The village was asleep, with all the people behind the walls and through the windows and up the stairs of the little houses blind and deaf in their beds while anything might happen. Lewis headed down the middle of the road and he kept falling and had to remember to get back on his feet.

He reached the churchyard and stood in the dark with the church even darker above him.

–from The Outcast by Sadie Jones


It’s 1957. Nineteen-year-old Lewis Aldridge is returning by train to his home in Waterford where he has just served a two-year prison term for a crime that shocked the sleepy Surrey community. Wearing a new suit, he carries money his father Gilbert sent — to keep him away, he suspects — and a straight razor. No one greets him at the station.

Twelve years earlier, seven-year-old Lewis and his spirited mother Elizabeth are on the same train, bringing Gilbert home from war. Waterford is experiencing many such reunions, alcohol lubricating awkward homecomings and community gatherings. The most oppressive of these are the mandatory holiday parties hosted by the town’s leading industrialist Dicky Carmichael, Gilbert’s employer. With the Carmichael estate backing onto the Aldridge property, the attractive and popular Tamsin Carmichael and her precocious kid sister Kit are Lewis’s playmates, along with a gaggle of neighbourhood boys who (like Lewis) are fascinated by Tamsin. The children play thrilling and cruel games, mirroring the adults’ inebriated dysfunction.

Though pleased to be reunited with Elizabeth, Gilbert is appalled by the coddling his son has received in his absence. No longerpermitted to skip church for picnics by the river, Elizabeth and Lewis are steered back under the ever-judgmental gaze of Waterford society. Lewis continues to flourish, a naturally capable golden child. But iconoclastic Elizabeth, disappointed by Gilbert’s insistence on conformity, seeks refuge in the bottle.

Then a sunny riverside picnic ends with Elizabeth dead and ten-year-old Lewis the only witness. A shattered Gilbert is incapable of providing comfort to his young son and the community of Waterford turns away from the traumatized child, now rendered a pariah by tragedy. Lewis is sent to boarding school, summoned home only for holidays. Gilbert remarries five months later to Alice, a compliant beauty who is not up to the task of parenting a damaged child.

Years pass and Lewis, now a troubled teenager, is lost in dangerous and self-harming behaviours. When an incident with a local bully causes Lewis to be even further estranged from the community, Gilbert and Alice stand idly by as Lewis is tormented by the tyrannical Dicky. Enraged, Lewis commits a shocking crime against the whole of Waterford and is sent to prison.

Two years later, upon his shamed return, the town continues to treat Lewis as an outcast. Only Tamsin’s little sister Kit, now a young woman, sees in him the golden boy he once was. She had become infatuated with Lewis years earlier when he had casually protected her from bullies and broken bicycle chains. But she now faces a much darker and more dangerous sort of bullying at the hands of her father. It is up to Lewis once again to rescue her, redeeming himself through tremendous courage and terrible sacrifice. And perhaps Kit holds the power to rescue him, too.

Winner of the Costa First Novel Award and a finalist for the prestigious Orange Prize, Sadie Jones’s The Outcast introduces us to a clear and brave new voice in British fiction. The novel is a clarion call to us all, daring us to stand up to the bullies of our world, in whatever form they may take and — above all else — to love our children.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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"Two years is not a long time, but maybe longer from seventeen to nineteen than at other times of your life." It's a long time indeed for Lewis Aldridge; two years spent in prison, where he was sent for a reckless act of violence even he can't quite comprehend. Lewis's struggle with middle-class life on the outskirts of 1950s London has a long history. He witnessed the death of his mother at ten and was neglected by his father and stepmother. But Lewis now faces the nearly insurmountable challenges of fitting back into a tightly knit community that wants no part of him and, embracing the family who treats him like a stranger.

Beneath the manicured lawns and social proprieties, behind the 5 p.m. cocktails and regular church attendance lies a legacy of cruelty and violence that infects the most respected residents of Waterford. Though Lewis is determined to redeem himself, he despises his uncertainty and turns it on himself, blindly acquiescing to a dangerous situation with his stepmother and pursuing a doomed relationship.

Juggling his desire for atonement with his loathing of the community's duplicity, Lewis refuses to abandon love in favor of appearances. A dramatic and incisive exploration of postwar provincialism and small-town hypocrisy, The Outcast is brave, heartfelt, and gracefully told, the story of a young man finding his heart without sacrificing his soul. (Summer 2008 Selection)
Louisa Thomas
…consistently interesting. Jones's portrait of the claustrophobia and conformity of 1950s England is sharp and assured, a convincing illustration of the dangerous consequences of a muzzled society.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Set in post WWII suburban London, this superb debut novel charts the downward spiral and tortured redemption of a young man shattered by loss. The war is over, and Lewis Aldridge is getting used to having his father, Gilbert, back in the house. Things hum along splendidly until Lewis's mother drowns, casting the 10-year-old into deep isolation. Lewis is ignored by grief-stricken Gilbert, who remarries a year after the death, and Lewis's sadness festers during his adolescence until he boils over and torches a church. After serving two years in prison, Lewis returns home seeking redemption and forgiveness, only to find himself ostracized. The town's most prominent family, the Carmichaels, poses particular danger: terrifying, abusive patriarch Dicky (who is also Gilbert's boss) wants to humiliate him; beautiful 21-year-old Tamsin possesses an insidious coquettishness; and patient, innocent Kit-not quite 16 years old-confounds him with her youthful affection. Mutual distrust between Lewis and the locals grows, but Kit may be able to save Lewis. Jones's prose is fluid, and Lewis's suffering comes across as achingly real. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
In emotionally repressed post-World War II England, a sensitive boy goes tragically off the rails. Jones's compelling debut explores childhood damage and the fragile possibility of survival against a background of buttoned-up late-1940s and '50s middle-class life. The heartbreaking story concerns ten-year-old Lewis Aldridge, whose mother drowns while the two are having a picnic. Gilbert, Lewis's father, has no vocabulary with which to discuss feelings, and he denies Lewis an outlet for his pain and guilt. The boy becomes numb, withdrawn from his friends, "closed and not really there." But there's also a well of rage within him which expresses itself when Gilbert announces a swift remarriage, and again when another boy (correctly) describes Lewis's dead mother as "drunken." There's a lot of drinking in this story: Both Gilbert's wives use alcohol as a means to dull their anguish and Lewis too discovers in his early teens that gin can soothe him, as can cutting himself with a razor. But the rage and isolation still build and finally he burns down the village church, ending up sentenced to prison for two and a half years. The only person who understands him is Kit Carmichael, daughter of bullying, abusive Dicky Carmichael, Gilbert's boss. On Lewis's release, when once again his ability to control himself wavers, it's Kit's love for him which eventually-after perhaps too many acts of violence and transgression-allows the young couple to move forward together. A confident, suspenseful and affecting first novel, delivered in cool, precise, distinctive prose.
Elaina Richardson
“Riveting…A superb debut novel about repression, rebellion, and moving on…The tension in THE OUTCAST is palpable and sensuous, beating loudly beneath the tranquil surface of Jones’s calm prose, and Lewis never disappoints in his fight for an ‘after’ that is happy and shame-free.”
From the Publisher
“Set in post-WWII suburban London, this superb debut novel charts the downward spiral and tortured redemption of a young man shattered by loss. . . . Jones’s prose is fluid, and Lewis’s suffering comes across as achingly real.” Publishers Weekly

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

“[Sadie Jones] writes with shimmering intensity about Lewis’s struggle for redemption. She is particularly strong on atmosphere. . . . Jones uses small, startling phrases to convey depths of passion and information and she can make seemingly innocuous passages radiate beauty.” Sunday Telegraph

“Reads like a thriller, the tension and menace built expertly. . . . The two main characters, Lewis and Kit, are skillfully delineated and this is a powerful, promising first novel.” Financial Times (UK)

“The prose is elegant and spare but the story it reveals is raw and explosive. . . . Devastatingly good.” Daily Mail (UK)

“A wonderfully assured first novel.” The Guardian

“Jones’s elegantly written debut novel brings to vivid life both her alienated and damaged protagonist and the small-minded community that condemns him.” The Times (UK)

“In the tradition of Atonement and Remains Of The Day but in her own singularly arresting voice, Sadie Jones conjures up the straight-laced, church-going, secretly abusive middle class of 1950’s England. The Outcast is a passionate and deeply suspenseful novel about what happens to those who break the rules, and what happens to those who keep them. I loved reading this wonderful debut.” —Margot Livesey

“An assured voice, a riveting story, and an odd, wrenchingly sympathetic protagonist. I would never have imagined this was a first novel.” —Lionel Shriver
"Sadie Jones displays rare skills in her debut novel. The story of a troubled young man in post-WWII suburban London is heartbreaking and wonderful. The book evokes both the best emotions of Catcher in the Rye and the spirit of quiet rebellion of The Razor's Edge, with characters who are well written and real. I love this book." --Brooke Raby, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington

“Sadie Jones’s deliberate pacing and sometimes menacing tone–even if nothing much seems to be happening–provides her tale with its addictive mood. . . . Jones creates such a sense of impending doom that it’s nearly unbearable. . . . Fireworks are inevitable. When at last they come, they relieve the pent-up narrative tension quite gloriously, leaving us cheering our bruised outcast.” –Toronto Star

“Sadie Jones is in total control of the material. . . . With immense compassion, she expertly conveys the flood of relief that comes when a blade cuts through numbness to draw blood and pain. . . . The story is powerful, and the author has big talent.” –NOW (Toronto)

“An amazingly accomplished first novel . . . Jones has produced a taut coming-of-age novel with fresh flair.” –The Edmonton Journal

“An elegant, subtle, haunting novel that stayed with me long after I finished it. Sadie Jones has a long literary future ahead of her.” –Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring

“It’s not often that a debut novel lands with such poise, grace and artistry, yet laced with a simmering, haunting malevolence. . . . The Outcast is a dark, menacing tale of the hidden, abusive nature of the Brit mercantile elite of a half-century ago. It is a taut tale of transgression and hard-won redemption, making Lewis Aldridge an unlikely but strangely likable hero, and by a writer making a muscular debut.” –The Hamilton Spectator

“Mesmerizing. . . . [the] prose is reminiscent of D.H. Lawrence and full of marvellous touches.” –The Vancouver Sun

“Jones recognizes the power of the plain fact of things, and, as do the best practitioners of this style, excels at description when her precision allows implication to flourish in the silences.” –The Globe and Mail

“[W]hat sets this novel apart is the author’s technical skill. Trained as a screenwriter, Jones brings a dramatic arc to every scene, while her restrained prose renders the repression and sublimation at this novel’s core into something combustible.” –Georgia Straight

“With her lush writing and tantalizing sense of setting and detail, Jones has written a novel that stands apart from rote imitation, and The Outcast offers the welcome promise of a literary career of originality and distinction.” –The Boston Globe

“[The Outcast is] consistently interesting. Jones’s portrait of the claustrophobia and conformity of 1950s England is sharp and assured, a convincing illustration of the dangerous consequences of a muzzled society.” The New York Times

From the Hardcover edition.

Booklist (starred review)
“Beautifully delicate...ever more compelling as Jones builds in a palpable sense of suspense.”
Boston Globe
“With her lush writing and tantalizing sense of setting and detail, Jones has written a novel that stands apart from rote imitation, and...offers the welcome promise of a literary career of originality and distinction.”
New York Sun
“One of the more subtle of the…hot debut novelists…this season”
Washington Post Book World
“An arresting story”
Booklist
"Beautifully delicate...ever more compelling as Jones builds in a palpable sense of suspense."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780099513421
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/28/1995

Meet the Author

Sadie Jones is the author of the novels The Outcast, winner of the Costa First Novel Award in the United Kingdom and a finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction; and Small Wars, a tale of love, war, and honor, which was published to critical praise on both sides of the Atlantic. The Uninvited Guests is her third novel. Sadie Jones lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue

August 1957

There was nobody there to meet him. He stood in line behind three other men and watched them get their things and sign the papers and walk out, and they all did it just the same way, as if you couldn't choose how to do a thing like that after all the time you'd been waiting for it. It made the same man out of all of them.

When it came to his turn there were only the clothes he'd been in when he arrived and his wallet and cut-throat razor. They made him sign for them, and for the postal order his father had sent, and he was put to get changed in a side room. His clothes didn't fit him properly any more; the trousers were an inch too short and the arms of the shirt didn't cover his wrists.

He went back to the desk and put his wallet in his back pocket with the postal order inside it, and the razor in his other pocket, and waited while the doors were all unlocked again to let him through. He didn't look at the guards, but crossed the yard to the small door in the wall to the side of the big gate.The door was unlocked, and opened, and he stepped out into the street. There was no sign of the men who'd gone before him, or of anyone at all. He kept a hold of himself and didn't feel too much about it. He had been in a state of waiting, but the waiting wasn't for his release, it was for his homecoming.Two years is not a long time, but maybe longer from seventeen to nineteen than at other times of your life. It was the colours that struck him first, the colours and the very bright sunlight. His eye could see far away, down the street to where a small, pale blue car was turning a corner and disappearing. He looked up and down the street and thought that he could stand there for ever in the clean air and look at the distance, and the bricks in the houses that were different shades of yellow and brown, and the bits of grass between the paving and the way there was nobody there.Then he remembered the prison at his back and wanted to get away from it. Then he thought that it was all he'd known for a long time, and he didn't want to get away from it, but he stopped himself thinking that and walked down the street, away from the prison and towards where the pale blue car had gone. Lewis needed to cross the river to Victoria to catch the train home. He had to get to a post office to cash the postal order and he had to get to the station, then he decided he needed to buy something to wear because he felt foolish, and going home would be hard enough without looking stupid as well. Getting from one place to another and having to speak to people he didn't know made him feel frightened and more like a convict than he had expected to, and when he got to Victoria he stood across the road from the station, trying to make himself go in. There was no shade. He had bought two white shirts and a light-grey suit that came with an extra pair of trousers, and some cigarettes and a pack of cards and a metal lighter with a hot flame. He was wearing one set of clothes and the man in the shop had sold him a cardboard case to put the other things in, and now he put the case down, and took cigarettes from the pocket of his new trousers and lit one with his new lighter and waited to be able to go into the station. He'd never bought clothes for himself before. It was odd that he could have done the things he'd done and not know how to clothe himself. His father had sent him enough money not to come home, but he hadn't asked him not to. Thinking about what he'd done and what his father thought of him wasn't helping, so he watched the people on the streets instead. The colours were still very bright. There was a lot of blue sky and the trees on the pavements seemed marvellous and the women looked wonderful and he had to stop himself from staring at all of them. He felt the flicker of life inside himself, looking at them, and it was a bright flame and not a dark one and there was promise in the way the women walked and the lightness of them. He tried not to stare and was dazzled and hypnotised by every woman who passed him.Trying not to stare at women, but still looking at them as much as he could was a game, and a good way to stop his head from getting away from him, and made him feel alive again. He wondered if you could get arrested for staring at women for an hour outside Victoria station, and imagined the judge putting him away again the day he got out for picturing them under their clothes, and after a while he was able to cross the street and go into the station and buy his ticket. The train had the same rhythm and the same sound and the same varnished wood as every other time he'd made the journey. The seats were hard, with parts of them worn to a shine. He had gone without thinking to the last second-class carriage towards the front, and sat in a window seat facing the back of the train so he could see the platform pull away from him. Alice had been dreaming a lot about Lewis, knowing he was coming out, and in her dreams he was always very young and was being taken away, or being lost, and in some of them she was a child too and she wasn't sure if she was him or herself as a little girl. She made sure Lewis's room was ready. She aired it and asked Mary to make up the bed and saw it was dusted and then she closed the door again, but she didn't know what time they would have let him out and he hadn't written to say if he was coming. If he didn't come, she thought, they wouldn't know where he was. It was a hot summer and it had become a habit to leave the windows and the French doors to the garden open, and the inside was often as warm as the outside and the carpet felt hot from the sun coming in. Alice went to her room and checked her face and then went down to the kitchen and spoke to Mary about supper.Then she sat in the drawing room by the empty grate and tried to read, not knowing if she was waiting or not. The platform at Waterford was as empty as the street outside the prison. Lewis walked down the steps from the platform without seeing anyone.The road had trees arching over it and sunlight came through the branches of the trees and dappled the road. Lewis walked with his head down and when he heard a car engine behind, he kept to the side, not looking. The car passed him. It stopped. He heard it reversing and then it drew level.'Hey you! I know you.'He looked into the open-topped car, at the blonde girl driving. It was Tamsin Carmichael and she smiled at him. 'Hello,Tamsin.' 'I'd no idea you were back!''Well, just.' 'Hop in.' He didn't move.'Are you getting in, or not?'He got in next to her.The car was an Austin and Tamsin wore short white gloves and a pale summer dress. Lewis didn't look at her after the first look, but away and out of the car at the country going by. 'How's it feel?' she asked, as if he'd just scored a century in a cricket match.'You've missed absolutely nothing, I can assure you. Caroline Foster got married, but apart from that, do you know, I don't think a single thing's happened. Home, is it?' 'If that's all right.' 'Not exactly what you'd call a detour.'

Tamsin let him out at the end of his drive and drove off, waving a gloved hand, and the sound of her car faded. Lewis didn't think she knew what it meant to him for her to be nice like that, but then he forgot about her, because his father's house was ahead of him and he was home. He walked up to the house and felt as if he was doing it in a dream.When he knocked,Alice opened the door immediately, smiling very brightly. 'Lewis!''Alice . . .You knew I was coming?''We knew they were releasing you. Sorry. Hello.'He went into the house and she shut the door and they looked at each other in the dim hall for a moment and then she kissed his cheek. 'You've grown,' she said. 'We just didn't know whether to expect you.You look so different.Your room's ready.' Lewis went upstairs and Alice stood in the hall wondering if she should phone Gilbert and tell him Lewis was back, and if Lewis really looked as different as she thought, or if she had just remembered him wrongly. It was like having a man in her house.A man she didn't know. He had been in prison and she had no idea what he'd been through there and he had never been predictable. She felt alarm and she waited in the hall, but Gilbert would have left his office already and there was no phoning him. Lewis's bedroom was roughly the same size as his last cell in Brixton; a little bigger, maybe. That had been green and not white and he had shared it. He put his case on the bed and went over to the window and lit a cigarette and looked out at the garden. There was a bluebottle crashing against the glass. It explored the edges, and seemed to search for an opening and then went straight at the panes of glass in a series of small assaults and then back to the edges again, and then it rested and then it went for the glass again, hitting itself, and it didn't stop, but carried on with it, trying to get out and not getting out and trying again. The mantelpiece clock had a light, metallic chime and the sound of it striking six reached Lewis in his room.Alice quietly started to assemble the ingredients for her jug of Pimm's, which would be ready at exactly six-thirty, just before Gilbert walked through the door. She made it slowly, and a small one for herself as a taster, to get the Pimm's and gin mix right.When she went into the kitchen for mint and apple and ice, she tried to make things better with Mary. Mary hadn't known Lewis was coming out; the first she knew of it was hearing his voice in the hall, and she was angry and she didn't want to be in the house with him. There had been a row and Alice had to beg her not to give notice. Now she found herself practically following Mary around the kitchen trying to ingratiate herself, and after a while she gave up and took her mint and her slices of apple and went back into the drawing room. When Lewis heard his father's key in the door he went to the top of the stairs. Gilbert stood in the doorway with his briefcase in his hand, still wearing his hat. Alice came out of the drawing room and watched them. Gilbert took off his hat and put it on the straight-backed chair by the door.'You're home.''Yes, sir.''Come with me.' He said it quietly, but with rage.'Gilbert --''Come!'Lewis started down the stairs to his father and followed him out of the house. They got into the car without a word. Gilbert drove quite fast towards the village and Lewis didn't need to ask him where they were going. It was hard to be next to his father again and to have his presence filling the car up like that and Lewis tried to remember what he'd planned to say. Gilbert pulled over and stopped and turned off the engine. Lewis found he couldn't raise his eyes, but stared down at his hands. He'd been going to make a promise. He'd been going to make his speech and his promise and reassure his father, but now he couldn't even raise his eyes from his hands and Gilbert said, 'Look, can't you?' He looked, obediently.The church was ahead of them, warm with evening sunshine and very quiet and peaceful.

'It's just the same,' said Lewis. 'Yes. We wanted it to be just the same. Lots of people chipped in. Dicky Carmichael helped enormously. It was very important to everybody that it be just the same.' Lewis looked at the church and there was silence as he looked. 'Well?' said Gilbert, 'Do you have anything to say?' Lewis said nothing.Gilbert started the engine and drove home without speaking to his son again.
The family sat in the dining room by the open window and Mary brought in the dishes and put them on the table before she left for the night. The sky was still light and the candles stood unlit. Lewis was distracted by the things on the table. There were holders and containers for everything; silver and glass and lace that were almost hypnotically diverting. He worked hard not to think about the wine that Gilbert was pouring for himself and Alice. He could smell the red wine as it was poured, mixing with the smell of the damp vegetables. The only talking was to do with the passing of things, and thanking, and Lewis wanted to laugh because he was nostalgic for the huge noise of the mass mealtimes in prison. It had been not unlike school, and quite relaxing, but this was just self-conscious and tense and everything he'd hated about home before. He thought there must be something really wrong with a person who would rather be in Brixton prison than their own home. Gilbert made a speech about what was expected of Lewis; how he must behave and get a job and be polite and not drink and as his father spoke, Lewis kept staring at the things on the table, but he couldn't see them properly any more. Alice stood up, pushing her chair back crookedly. She excused herself and left the room and Lewis and his father finished their supper in silence. Gilbert placed his knife and fork together and wiped his mouth carefully. He put the napkin on his side plate and stood up. 'Good,' he said. He waited to see if Lewis would get up too, but Lewis continued to stare at the table. After watching him for a moment Gilbert went to join Alice in the drawing room. Lewis waited until he heard his father say something to Alice, and then the sound of the door, closing.The wine bottle on the table was empty. He looked at the liquor on the sideboard. There was no gin.There was brandy and whisky, in decanters, and glasses next to the decanters. He hadn't had a drink since the night he'd been arrested. He could have one now. It wasn't as if he'd decided not to drink, he wouldn't be breaking any promise. He took a breath and waited and then got up and stepped out of the open window onto the grass and walked up the lawn. The woods were dark already.The sky was pale and the house was lit up behind him, but there was dark ahead. Lewis looked into the trees and he thought he could hear the river -- but he couldn't hear the river, the river couldn't have got closer. He felt a coldness go over him at the thought of the water coming closer to the house. 'All right?' Alice was standing next to him and he hadn't realised and he hadn't heard her.He looked at her and tried to pull his mind back to where they were. 'I wanted to say,'she began,'I wanted to say -- let's try and be friends, this time, shall we?''Of course.' She looked so worried, he couldn't disappoint her. 'Your father,' she said,'he missed you.' It was kind of her to say so, but he didn't think it was true.'Was it bad?' He wasn't sure what she meant, and then realised she was asking him about prison. She didn't really want to know, though.'There are worse things.' 'We didn't come.' They hadn't come. At the beginning, when he was so frightened, it had been unbearable that they didn't, and he had written to them a few times, asking, but after that it was easier not seeing them and hardly hearing from them, and he'd forgotten about it -- or nearly. Alice let the silence go on as long as she could and then she tried again. She put her hand out, indicating his arm, stretching her fingers lightly towards it. 'No more silliness?' she asked.He pulled his arm away and put his hand in his pocket.'Right,' she said, 'right,' and she smiled again, apologetic this time. The grass was wet with dew and she had taken off her shoes to come out to him and carried them now as she went back to the house.
It was the same dream, and when he woke in darkness and sweat, and cold with the fear of it, he had to sit up and put his feet on the ground, and make himself keep his eyes open, and tell himself he wasn't there and it wasn't true, or even if it was, it was an old truth and he should forget it. He'd had the dream while he had been in prison, but much less than before and sometimes not for weeks at a time and he'd hoped it was leaving him. He waited for the fear to drain away and to feel like he was breathing air again, and not water, and he kept his eyes open and looked for a moon outside the window, but there wasn't one. He thought of Alice, pointing at him like that, and his forearm reminded him of itself, like a separate thing making him look and, after a while, he did. It was too dark to see the scars, but he could feel them with his fingertips, both numb and raw; a feeling of wrongness. He went to the window and tried to make real things from the shapes of the garden. He could see the apple tree and past it he could see the line of the woods meeting the sky. He made himself stand still, but it was very hard to be still and very hard to stand there, and he would have clawed out of his skin if he could, just to get away from himself. He told himself it was a luxury to be able to get up in the night without disturbing anyone and a blessing to be able to walk to a window if he wanted, and there to be no bars on it, and a garden beneath. He told himself all that, but it didn't mean anything.
Read More Show Less

Foreword

1. Why does Lewis choose to return home after prison, despite being ambivalent towards Waterford and dreading what he’s returning to? What does he hope to achieve?

2. Alcohol plays a significant role in much of the novel’s tragedy, despite the attempts by Waterford society to disguise it in civility. Discuss the impact of alcohol in Waterford community life, particularly in respect to family dysfunction.

3. Discuss sexuality in The Outcast, comparing Lewis’s relationships with the various women in his life. How is each relationship different? What is it that draws these women to him and him to them?

4. Discuss the roles of church and school in this novel. Are they the sites of moral training and education they are held up to be? Why or why not? What is Lewis’s response to them?

5. The people of Waterford generally treat Lewis with contempt and fear rather than compassion. Why do you think this is? In the rare instances in which Lewis receives compassion, how does he react?

6. How does Gilbert react to Lewis’s displays of affection towards him? Why, do you think? How does Gilbert feel about Lewis?

7. Lewis not only seems to attract violence, but at times he appears to seek it. Why do you think this is? Do you think it’s related to his self-cutting compulsion? What does he seek from harming himself?

8. There are recurrent symbols throughout the novel, in particular light and dark, blood, water and rivers, and trains. Choose one of these symbols to explore and discuss its possible meanings.

9. Discuss Oedipus and Jesus as archetypal presences in the novel.

10. Jones describes this novelas a love story, rather than a romance. What do you think is the distinction between the two genres? Did The Outcast remind you of any other novels or movies you’ve encountered?

11. Had Elizabeth not died, what do you think Lewis’s future could have held for him? Will he still be able to achieve that same potential?

12. Compare the ways in which Lewis and Kit manage their difficult lives. How are their coping strategies the same and how are they different? Do you think their relationship will survive?

13. Jones wrote this book using an omniscient narrative technique, allowing us glimpses into the inner thoughts and experiences of many of the characters (though not all of them). What did you think of this strategy? Could the story have been told without it?

14. Jones originally developed The Outcast as a screenplay. Does this surprise you?

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Why does Lewis choose to return home after prison, despite being ambivalent towards Waterford and dreading what he’s returning to? What does he hope to achieve?

2. Alcohol plays a significant role in much of the novel’s tragedy, despite the attempts by Waterford society to disguise it in civility. Discuss the impact of alcohol in Waterford community life, particularly in respect to family dysfunction.

3. Discuss sexuality in The Outcast, comparing Lewis’s relationships with the various women in his life. How is each relationship different? What is it that draws these women to him and him to them?

4. Discuss the roles of church and school in this novel. Are they the sites of moral training and education they are held up to be? Why or why not? What is Lewis’s response to them?

5. The people of Waterford generally treat Lewis with contempt and fear rather than compassion. Why do you think this is? In the rare instances in which Lewis receives compassion, how does he react?

6. How does Gilbert react to Lewis’s displays of affection towards him? Why, do you think? How does Gilbert feel about Lewis?

7. Lewis not only seems to attract violence, but at times he appears to seek it. Why do you think this is? Do you think it’s related to his self-cutting compulsion? What does he seek from harming himself?

8. There are recurrent symbols throughout the novel, in particular light and dark, blood, water and rivers, and trains. Choose one of these symbols to explore and discuss its possible meanings.

9. Discuss Oedipus and Jesus as archetypal presences in the novel.

10. Jones describes this novel as a love story, rather than a romance. What do you think is the distinction between the two genres? Did The Outcast remind you of any other novels or movies you’ve encountered?

11. Had Elizabeth not died, what do you think Lewis’s future could have held for him? Will he still be able to achieve that same potential?

12. Compare the ways in which Lewis and Kit manage their difficult lives. How are their coping strategies the same and how are they different? Do you think their relationship will survive?

13. Jones wrote this book using an omniscient narrative technique, allowing us glimpses into the inner thoughts and experiences of many of the characters (though not all of them). What did you think of this strategy? Could the story have been told without it?

14. Jones originally developed The Outcast as a screenplay. Does this surprise you?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 21 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    AN ACHINGLY BEAUTIFUL STORY

    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

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    deep historical tale

    In England the war is over and many veterans are coming home to their loved ones. Ten year old Lewis Aldridge struggles with having an adult male in the household with the return of his father Gilbert and the change in routines to a more stifling environment. However as both males adjust, the lad still enjoys picnics in the woods with his mom Elizabeth until the day she fails to return home with him having drowned. --- While Gilbert remains outraged in his grief over the next year, his remote father remarries Alice, who has no idea how to reach her stepson. A few years later, Lewis goes to prison for arson, having burned down a church. In 1957 now nineteen years old Lewis is free and returns home. Sixteen years old Kit Carmichael, daughter of the most influential family, is attracted to Lewis and wants to help him while her older sister twenty one years old Tamsin teases and flirts with him, which he assumes means she is attracted to him. Their abusive father, who is his dad¿s boss, simply wants to destroy him. --- This deep historical tale may take place in the Happy Days of the 1950s in England, but has incredibly deep relevance today as the family dynamics is explored. First the issue of returning veteran being away for extended war duty shows how complex life can be whether it is fifteen months deployment to Iraq or fighting for several years on the continent. Second there is the parental abuse of the father hitting his wife and Kitty as if he had the divine right to do so, which leaves an angry Lewis feel helpless. Finally there is the alcoholism of Gilbert and Alice that isolates Lewis even further. With THE OUTCAST ironically as the center to all these social issues, Sadie Jones provides a powerful look at the dark side of families circa 1957 but still germane in 2008. --- Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fathers sons and tragedy beautifully told

    Here's another book read on my trip to England and I've finally worked out why all the English books I've enjoyed recently seem to different from American ones-they're all written in third person omniscient. I could quickly become accustomed to this-they do it so very well it seems completely natural, just vaguely foreign to my ex-pat reading style. The voice is perfectly suited to Sadie Jones' quintessentially English tale of repressed emotion, unspoken care and secret pain in The Outcast. The novel is set in England towards the end of the 1950s; it's dark and haunting with families hurt by tragedy, love turned to despair, and community holding firm to community values, stiff upper lip and all.

    In 1947, a ten-year-old boy waits for his father's return from the war. In 1957, father awaits the son's return. In between, the world has changed. Father and son can't close the gap that tragedy's built between them, so now they watch each other fall apart.

    Across the village, another family deals with pain in similarly secret ways. Teenagers reach out and past each other, never quite connecting, just as they did as children, and the wounds of the past begin to open again.

    The narrative is tight and tense, the vision clear, and the insight wholly evocative and powerful. Even as every turn leads further into darkness, the prospect of light remains, and even the worst wounds can still be redeemed. The Outcast is a truly beautiful tale of a young man dealing with his mother's death, his father's coldness, and his community's unwillingness to make allowances. The novel cuts through secrecy with a razor blade of clear observation. By the end the protagonist wears his wounds with pride and the reader can share a sigh of hope.

    Disclosure: My sister-in-law has wonderful taste in books and kindly passed this one on to me.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    When I first picked up The Cradle I thought it would be a foolish little story. The book itself is small in size and few in pages. I was wrong.

    Marissa and Matt are expecting. And Marissa has a pregnant woman's request, and the request involves a cradle. The characters the author creates along the way of Matt's search for the cradle are easy to visualize as a result of the vivid and colorful descriptions. And, just when you think the story is going to end, it takes another, and then another, twist. Get this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2008

    Lewis is my new hero!

    I was rooting for Kit and Lewis from the very moment he 'rescued' her from her broken bike when they were just children. My heart broke a little every time they could have saved each other but were too caught up in their own separate tragedies to see each other's pain. When Kit finally yelled 'we're saved!' my heart nearly jumped out of my chest with joy. Great book, predictable ending, but how the author gets to the expected conclusion is a beautiful, worthwhile story that I will not soon forget.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2012

    The Outcast

    One hopeless and misunderstood young boys struggle to thrive with no support and in spite of enduring multiple tragedies duting his formative years. The dark parts may make you cringe, but many unexpected plot twists make it hard to put down.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2008

    Read it in one day

    This was a riveting novel. Such good writing. Very simple but I couldn't put it down. This misunderstood, damaged young man who loses his mother and has no one to turn to and talk to in close mouthed, stifled England in the 50s. I look forward to Sadie Jones' next book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2008

    Excellent Debut!

    This is an excellent story about what its like to come back home after being in a place where you felt like you didnt belong. It was very detailed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2008

    Beautifully written, couldn't put it down

    Did you ever want to grab a character from the pages of a book and hug him? I dare you not to want to embrace Lewis and tell him he¿s loved. The characters within this debut novel are so three dimensional that you feel for them, know them, and want to sit them down and straighten them out. A book I couldn¿t put down, but wanted to slowly read to enjoy every word. One of the best books I¿ve picked up in a while. A wonderful book.

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