Review

The Outcast

by Sadie Jones

In
her small English village, Elizabeth just doesn't fit in. Her jokes
are wrong, she drinks too much, and she’s too free-spirited.
During the war she has her young son, Lewis, for company, but when
it ends and her husband, Gilbert, comes home, she and Lewis both
feel pressure to behave with propriety and make him the center of
the household. A tragedy turns the soft-spoken Lewis into even more
of an outsider and is the event that haunts him in Sadie Jones's
stunning debut novel, THE OUTCAST.

Lewis is just a young boy when he returns alone from a picnic in
the woods with his mother. His father, after his wife's death,
grows even more distant from his son, displacing all his hurt and
anger on to him. Gilbert is even sometimes repulsed by Lewis, who
is so needy and eager to love. Less than a year later, Gilbert
introduces Lewis to Alice, the young woman who is nothing like
Elizabeth and who he plans to marry. Alice makes an unsure
stepmother who quickly decides that Lewis is too damaged. The
upheaval at home is reflected in the wider community: neighbors,
too, feel that Lewis is emotionally damaged, and when he withdraws
into himself almost completely, they take it as proof they are
right. Lewis is left alone emotionally and often physically as the
community in which he lives and the family of which he is a part
pull farther and farther from him.

One exception is Kit. Kit is younger than Lewis and a keen observer
of not only his life but also the hypocrisies of her town. The
daughter of a violent father and a passive mother, and sister to
the town's beauty, Kit's strength and defiance make her an outcast,
too, and Lewis becomes a symbol of hope and resistance to
her.

Lewis's behavior spins out of control, and when he attacks the
center of the community's identity, he ends up in prison. There he
finds the order and security he craves, but upon his release he
must go home to confront his father, stepmother and the entire
community that fears and hates him. Shortly after his return, he
and Kit both reach a point of no return and must decide whether to
accept the roles they have been cast in or break free of the
oppression and secrets of their hometown and families.

Jones's novel is wonderfully written, a perfect balance of
understated English prose and gripping tension. She fleshes out her
characters realistically and gives them plenty of compelling events
to respond to, thus giving readers an engaging plot peopled by
interesting, if flawed and troubling, figures. THE OUTCAST is set
in provincial, post-war England but captures much of the mindset of
small towns and close-knit communities everywhere when appearances
and conformity are the highest values. This is a beautiful, albeit
dark, novel of a town, and its inhabitants, wrecked by war,
uncertainty, personal violence, class distinctions and secrets.
There remains, in the figures of Kit and Lewis --- especially Kit
--- a glimmer of hope that escape, healing and even transcendence
are possible.

THE OUTCAST is not your typical light summer tale, but this
remarkable and accomplished first novel is a must-read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 14, 2011

The Outcast
by Sadie Jones

  • Publication Date: March 11, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0061374032
  • ISBN-13: 9780061374036