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The Outcast
     

The Outcast

4.2 21
by Sadie Jones
 

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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 back on his feet.

He reached the churchyard and stood in the dark with the church even

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 longer permitted 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.

Editorial Reviews

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

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
"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.”
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."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307396686
Publisher:
Knopf Canada
Publication date:
03/10/2009
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
5.17(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.91(d)

Read an Excerpt

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 gun. He wondered, if he did have a gun, if he would let Lewis hold it. Lewis thought probably not. His father probably wouldn’t have one, and if he did it would be too dangerous and Lewis wouldn’t be allowed to play with it.The clouds were very low over the fields, so that everything looked close up and flat. Lewis thought it was possible that the train might be standing still and the fields and houses and sky might be rushing past. That would mean his father would be rushing towards him standing in the Charing Cross Hotel, but then all the people would fall over. He thought he might feel sick, so he looked over at his mother. She was looking straight ahead, as if she was watching something lovely. She was smiling so he pushed her leg with his foot so that she would smile at him, and she did, and he looked back out of the window. He couldn’t remember if he’d had lunch or what time of day it was. He tried to remember breakfast. He remembered going to bed the night before and his mother kissing him and saying, ‘We’ll see Daddy tomorrow’, and the way his stomach had felt suddenly. It felt that way now. His mother called it butterflies, but it wasn’t like that, it was more just suddenly knowing you had a stomach, when normally you forgot. He decided if he sat and thought about his father and his stomach any more he’d definitely feel sick.

‘Can I go for a walk?’ he asked.

‘Yes, you can go for a walk. Don’t touch the doors and don’t lean out. How will you know where to find me again?’

He looked around,‘G’.

‘Carriage G.’

He couldn’t open the door; it was heavy and they both fought with it. She held it open for him and he went down the corridor, one hand on the window side, the other on the compartment side, steadying himself and saying under his breath,‘along-along-along’.

After Elizabeth had spoken to Gilbert on the telephone the day before, she had sat on the chair in the hall and cried. She cried so much that she’d had to go upstairs so that Jane wouldn’t see her, or Lewis, if he came in from the garden. She had cried much more than any time they had parted since he had first gone away and more than she had in May when they heard the war in Europe had ended. Now she felt very calm and as if it was normal to be going to see your husband whom you had been frightened might die almost every day for four years. She looked down at the clasp on her new bag and thought about all the other women seeing their husbands again and buying handbags that wouldn’t be noticed. Lewis appeared through the glass, struggling with the door, and she let him in and he smiled at her and stood balancing with his arms out.

‘Look –’

He had his mouth open with the effort of not falling over and his tongue to one side. One of his socks was down. His fingers were each stretching out. Elizabeth loved him and missed a breath with loving him. She grabbed him around the middle.

‘Don’t! I wasn’t falling!’

‘I know you weren’t, I just wanted to give you a hug.’

‘Mummy!’

‘Sorry, darling, you balance.’ She let go, and Lewis went back to balancing.

They took a taxi from Victoria to Charing Cross and they looked out at the buildings, and the big holes where buildings had been.There was much more sky than there had been and the gaps looked more real than the buildings, which were like afterthoughts. There were lots of people on the pavements and the road was crowded with cars and buses.The weather made it look as if the broken buildings and people’s coats and hats and the grey sky were all joined together in greyness except for the blowing autumn leaves, which were quite bright.

‘Here we are,’ said Elizabeth, and the taxi pulled over. Lewis scraped his calf climbing out of the taxi and didn’t feel it because he was looking up at the hotel and seeing all the men going in and out and thinking that one of them might be his father.

‘I’m meeting my husband in the bar.’

‘Yes, madam. Follow me.’

Lewis held Elizabeth’s hand and they followed the man.The hotel was vast and dim and shabby.There were men in uniform everywhere and people greeting each other and the air was full of smoke. Gilbert was sitting in a corner by a tall, dirty window. He was in his uniform, and greatcoat, and he was smoking a cigarette and scanning the crowds outside on the pavement. Elizabeth saw him before he saw her and she stopped.

‘Do you see your party, madam?’

‘Yes, thank you.’

Lewis pulled her hand,‘Where? Where?’

Elizabeth watched Gilbert and she thought, I should hold this moment. I should remember this. I will remember this all my life. Then he looked up and saw her. There was a moment of blankness and then a smile and from then she wasn’t on her own in her head any more, she was with him. He crushed his cigarette into the ashtray and got up and went over to her. She let go of Lewis’s hand. They kissed, embraced clumsily, and then allowed each other to be very close, quickly.

‘God, we can get you out of this bloody uniform –’

‘Lizzie, you’re here –’

‘We’ll burn it, ritually.’

‘Don’t be treasonous.’

Lewis looked up at his mother and father holding each other. His hand felt strange where she had let go of it. He waited.They stood apart and Gilbert looked down at Lewis.

‘Hello, little chap!’

Lewis looked up at his father and he had so many thoughts in his mind that his face went blank.

‘Aren’t you going to say hello?’

‘Hello.’

‘What? Can’t hear you!’

‘Hello.’

‘Shake hands then!’

Lewis held out his hand.They shook hands.

‘He’s been so excited, Gilbert. He’s been full of things to ask. He’s talked of nothing else.’

‘We can’t stand here all day. Shall we get out of this ghastly place? What do you want? What shall we do?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Are you going to cry?’

Lewis looked up at Elizabeth in alarm. Why would she cry?

‘No. I’m not going to. We could have some lunch.’

‘Well, not here. Come on, I’ll get my things. Wait.’

He went over to the table where he’d been sitting and picked up his kit bag and another bag. Lewis held tightly to his mother. She squeezed his hand.They still had their secret, she was still with him.

They went for lunch and a huge fuss was made about the chops, which were small and brown, in the middle of a large silver plate. Lewis thought he wasn’t hungry and ate enormously. He watched his parents talking.They talked about the housekeeper, Jane, and whether or not her cooking was tolerable.They talked about the roses Elizabeth had just planted and that there was going to be a big Christmas party at the Carmichaels. Lewis thought he would explode with boredom and his insides would splash all over the walls and onto the waiter’s white jacket. He tapped his father’s arm.

‘Excuse me, sir.’

His father didn’t look at him.

‘I’ll get the train, I should think . . .’

Lewis thought he hadn’t heard.

‘Excuse me, sir . . . Excuse me.’

‘Do answer him, Gilbert.’

‘Lewis?’

‘Was it very hot in the desert?’

‘Very.’

‘Were there snakes?’

‘A few.’

‘Did you shoot them?’

‘No.’

‘Were there camels?’

‘Yes. Lots.’

‘Did you ride on any?’

‘No.’

‘Did you shoot lots of people or blow them up?’

‘Lewis, let Daddy eat his lunch.’

‘Shoot them to death, or blow them up?’

‘Lewis, nobody wants to talk about things like that.’

He could see that they didn’t. He thought he’d stick to safe subjects.

‘Do you like chops?’

‘Chops are jolly nice. Don’t you think so?’

‘Not bad. Did they give you chops in the desert?’

‘Not usually.’

‘Jelly?’

‘Talkative, isn’t he?’

‘Not always. He’s excited.’

‘I can see that. Eat your lunch, Lewis, and be quiet, there’s a good chap.’

Lewis had already finished his lunch, but he obeyed the second part, and was quiet.

His room was dark.The curtains were drawn, but a little light came in from the landing and fell across the bed. He could hear the wireless downstairs and his parents’ voices, but he couldn’t hear what they were saying. He wriggled down further into the bed. The sheets were cold. He heard his mother’s step on the stairs. She came in and sat on the edge of the bed.

‘Good night, darling.’

‘Good night.’

She leaned and kissed him. He loved her closeness and the smell of her, but the kiss was a tiny bit wet. He felt further away from her than usual, and not sure what to think about anything.

‘Sit up,’ she said.

She held him and hugged him hard. She stroked his hair. Her blouse was slippery on his face, her skin was warm, and her pearls dug pleasantly into his forehead. Her breath smelled familiarly of cigarettes and what she’d been drinking and her scent was the one she always had. He heard her heart beat and felt absolutely at home.

‘All right?’ she said.

He nodded. She released him and he lay back down.

‘What about Daddy?’ she asked.

‘Now he’s back we can be a proper family.’

‘Yes. Will you try to remember not to go on at him about fighting and things like that? When people have had a difficult time they often don’t want to talk about it. Do you understand? Will you remember, darling?’

Lewis nodded. He didn’t know what she meant, but he loved her confiding in him and asking him to do something for her.

‘Is Daddy going to come and say good night? I can’t remember if he does or not.’

‘I’ll ask him. Go to sleep.’

Lewis lay down and she went away. He lay in the dark and listened to the voices and the music downstairs and waited for his father to come and then he fell asleep, quite quickly, like the light going out of a room when the door is closed.

‘War over? There’s still nothing to bloody wear and nothing to bloody eat!’

‘Lizzie, the boy.’

‘Oh he’s used to bloody.’

‘Lewis, run and play.’

Lewis had been watching them get ready for church. He had often lain on his mother’s bed while she dressed before, but his father didn’t like him in their bedroom so, in the two days he had been back, the doorway had become his in-between place.

‘Lewis! Go.’

Lewis went. He sat on the top stair and picked paint off the banister. He could hear his parents.

‘For God’s sake, Gilbert. Church!’

‘I was brought up with church.’

‘Well, I wasn’t.’

‘No; you and your heathen mother more likely to be dancing around with druids.’

‘How dare you –’

There was a pause, and a small laugh from his mother.They must have been kissing. Lewis got up and trailed down the stairs and out into the drive. He kicked the gravel about for a bit and waited.

The small church was brick and flint and the sky was low, and close to it, and full of clouds. The children ran around in the leaves, scuffing their Sunday shoes, and their parents met and spoke as they always had, but still, not quite as they always had, because every week someone else had come home, and another family was altered, and added to, and showing itself again.

Elizabeth, Gilbert and Lewis left the car and reached the churchyard and Lewis pulled away from his mother and joined the children playing between the graves.The game was catch, the gravestones were safe, and you had to try to get to the tree. The rules kept changing and no-one ever said them out loud. Lewis was one of the smallest boys.There was a boy called Ed Rawlins who was two years older and Lewis raced him for the tree. Ed was ‘It’, but Lewis got away from him and stood against the tree getting his breath and looked down at the church.

He could see the girls playing near their mothers. He could see the Carmichaels greeting his parents. He knew they’d have to go in soon and the thought of the cold and the hard pews was practically unbearable. His parents were standing close together. His father saw him and gestured him over, and he took his hands off the tree to go to him and Ed rushed him from one side.

‘Gotcha!’

‘Didn’t.’

‘Did!’

‘Anyway I’m not playing.’

‘You are!’

He shoved Lewis sideways onto the ground, wanting to get him down, and then he looked around,waiting to be in trouble and to see if Lewis would cry and draw attention. Lewis got up and inspected his slightly grazed hand.

‘Get off,’ he said, and went to his father.

‘Lewis, behave yourself. This is a churchyard, not a schoolyard.’

‘Yes, sir.’ He took his mother’s hand.

‘Hello there, Lewis!’

Lewis looked at the shiny buttons on Dicky Carmichael’s blazer and didn’t like him. He didn’t see why Mr Carmichael got to stay home while his father was away in the war, and he didn’t like that he got to be in charge of everyone, or that he was going to be father’s boss again. Lewis thought his father should be everyone’s boss.

‘Good to have your father home?’

‘Yes, sir.’

With a wink, ‘Maybe we’ll see you at church more often.’ This was a tease directed at his mother and Lewis didn’t say anything. Gilbert laughed loudly.

‘Now I’m back, I’d better get my house in order.’

Lewis looked at his mother; she was smiling her social smile.

‘No more Black Mass?’ she said,‘What will I do?’

Dicky moved away with his wife Claire and they went into the church followed by their two girls, one big and one small, in their double-breasted coats and hats and patent shoes.

‘Do you have to make such tasteless jokes?’ said Gilbert.

‘Yes, I really do, darling.’ Elizabeth kissed his cheek and they went inside.

Church was as bad as it could have been.The only thing bearable was exchanging silly faces with his mother. It seemed to go on for ever and ever. Lewis thought he’d die and slither under the pew in front and rot there. He tried not to fidget. He tried to count the beams in the roof and read his hymn book. He thought about lunch. He thought about the vicar’s ears. He stared at the backs of the Carmichael girls’ heads and tried to make them turn around, but Tamsin was nine and didn’t notice and there was no point to Kit at all, she was only four and too young for anything. He thought about no cricket until the summer.

The low sky got lower over the church and a cold wind started and then fine rain on the wind, until the roofs shone with water. Beneath the roofs were Sunday lunches cooking, and fires built up to last until after church. The road into the village was curved and, along it, the driveways were lined with rhododendrons and laurel hedges so that the houses were hidden from each other.The Carmichaels’ big Tudor house backed onto fairly deep woods and you could walk from there to the Aldridges’ without going on the road if you wanted. Elizabeth had done it often when Lewis was smaller and Claire Carmichael was pregnant with Kit.There was a post office and a shop and the church was close to them, on the main street, but as you left the village the houses spread out and they were more disparate. Some of the houses were 1920s, like the Aldridges’, and some of them were even newer, or were cottages that in the past had been attached to the Carmichaels’ house.

The station, like a toy station, was a mile away, along a road of arching trees, and so many of the men worked in London that the road to it had been made wider in places so that the cars could pass one another. Now there had been the war, the station had taken on a new significance.There had been partings and reunions that had made the sound of the trains in the distance, as they were heard from the houses, invested with emotion, not just an everyday sound like before. Even though so many people had come back, it seemed there would never be a point where you could say it was over.There was a lot of talk about rebuilding and making fresh starts, but really it was an odd sort of victory after the first rush of it, because so many people were still away and the news they heard every day was not peacetime news, but full of death and emerging horror.

The rain stopped as everybody came out of the church and got into their cars or walked away through the village and Elizabeth pulled Gilbert to the car faster and faster, like running away, and made him laugh. At home they ate lunch without talking very much and not tasting anything particularly at all and the afternoon, for Lewis at least, was strangely flat and just difficult. He couldn’t seem to do any of the things he normally did, and the sight of his father was still unfamiliar to him and disturbing. He was used to a feminine presence and he found his father’s maleness oddly threatening. He was exciting, and to be adored, but he was foreign too, and he changed the balance of the house. Gilbert’s uniform had not been burned, but hung in the wardrobe in the spare room, where he dressed, and Lewis should have liked him to keep wearing it and be distant and heroic instead of real and influencing Lewis’s daily life the way he did. In his suits and tweed jackets he looked like a father and more approachable, but it was deceiving, because he was a stranger, and it would have been easier if he hadn’t looked like someone you might know very well and yet not be.

The night Gilbert came home it had been at first like he and Elizabeth had never made love before and then, suddenly, familiar and just like always. She had cried with gratitude and he had held her and said,‘What on earth is it?’ — as if he didn’t know.

‘Is it odd to be home?’

‘Of course it’s odd.What do you want me to say about it?’

‘I don’t know. I think I want to know everything in your mind. I want to know what it’s been like for you. I want to know what you’re thinking right now and if you’re happy.You never say anything.’

‘All right then. I was thinking it’s jolly nice to be on proper sheets.’

‘You weren’t!’

‘I was.’

‘And what else?’

‘Oh, how much I enjoyed dinner.’

‘Stop it!’

‘Absolutely true.You can think me as superficial as you like.’

Elizabeth, giggling,‘No jelly then, in North Africa?’

‘Actually we did have jelly at Christmas.’

‘Why on earth didn’t you tell him? He would have been thrilled.’

‘Well, what about you? How’s your war been, darling?’

‘Ha-ha.’

‘Ha-ha.’

‘I know I write dreadful letters, but everything was in them.’

‘Just Lewis?’

‘Lewis and being here and not going up to town much.’

‘Not too lonely?’

‘Of course lonely. But Kate came once or twice when she could get away from the boys. And Lewis is just a perfect companion.’

‘You’ve been spoiling him.’

‘I don’t think so. It’s not as if I indulge him.’

‘With your time you do.’

‘Jealous?’

‘Of course not, but you ought to have had a nanny. I don’t understand you.You could have had more time to yourself.’

‘If I had any more time to myself, I’d drink myself into a stupor within about two minutes.’

‘Lizzie!’

‘You know I would. For goodness’ sake, time to what? Visit Claire Carmichael, or Bridget Cargill? Or go up to town and most likely get bombed to buggery?’

‘Your language is appalling.’

‘Don’t be so pompous.’

‘He’ll be off to school in September.’

‘Yes. I suppose he will. Eight seems so little to go.’

‘All the others will be eight too.You’ll miss him.’

‘He’ll miss me, too.’

‘It’ll be good for him.’

‘Probably.’

‘Now I’m back, you won’t be lonely and bored.’

‘You’ll be home every night.’

‘Every night.’

‘I can’t really believe it.’

‘I know.’

‘If I fall asleep, will you still be here? Tomorrow?’

‘Of course.And Lizzie, do you really want to know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking — just that –’

‘Oh don’t, you don’t need to tell me if it makes you cry. Don’t . . .’

What People are Saying About This

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.”

Meet the Author

Sadie Jones was born in London, England, to a Jamaican-born writer and a London-born actress. Jones spent years traveling, working as a waitress and teaching English as a foreign language, before returning to London to work in various filmmaking roles. She then became a screenwriter, a vocation she practised for 15 years, writing for BBC television and feature films. The Outcast, published in 2008, is her first novel. For it she won the Costa First Novel Award and was a finalist for the Orange Prize. Jones is married to the architect Tim Boyd and they have two children.

About her drive to write The Outcast, Jones says, “It is often said that everybody has a novel in them. Until I wrote The Outcast — compelled to write, as I was — I thought I was an exception this rule. Perhaps I needed a book with enough life to it, that demanded to be written, or perhaps I was simply learning the hard way how to tell stories, I don’t know; in many ways it’s a mystery to me.”

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Outcast 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
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SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
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.
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novelone More than 1 year ago
Afriend recommended this book and I bought it for a trip. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. The setting is 1950's England and Lewis Aldridge has just been released from prison and is heading reluctantly home. Flashback to Lewis at ten and the story starts to unfold. Lewis and his mother have been happy living on their own with his father off to war. When his father returns everything changes. He has no time for his son and wants his wife to only spend time with him. She is a wonderful mother and when she drowns before Lewis's eyes, his life will never be the same again. His father quickly remarries to a woman who does not understand children and his life becomes a living hell. When he commits an act of arson he is sent to jail. Back to present time. He returns home and strikes up a friendship with his father's boss's daughter. When he finds out she is being physically abused he trys to help with dire consequences. This is a book that will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.
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OS More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.