Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Outcast by Sadie Jones

Title: The Outcast
Author: Sadie Jones
ISBN: 978099513421
Publisher: Vintage Books/2008
Rating: 4.5/5

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 the all did it 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.

This is about Lewis Aldridge, who is nineteen and just has been released from prison after two years of sentence. He knows he is not welcome home but he has nowhere else to go. No one accepts him into their fold. He is ignored totally. Only Kit, a fifteen year old girl, awaits eagerly for his return. He barely even notices her.

When Lewis was six years old, he had waited with his mother for his father's homecoming from the war. Lewis is a happy child who loves his mother and is also well liked by the other children of Waterford. He is in awe of his father. However, tragedy strikes. His mother dies by drowning while they had both gone for a swim. Ten-year old Lewis is unable to cope with it. And father and son instead of getting closer, drift further apart. Gilbert Aldridge marries Alice within a year of Elizabeth's death. To give her credit, twenty-six year old Alice tries to bond with the boy who is too bruised to respond. But she is too young, naive and inexperienced.

Lewis becomes prone to brooding. He harms himself with razor cuts, starts drinking and one day runs away to a London club, staying there overnight. When he returns home, punishment is waiting for him. There is no love between father and son.

Gilbert is an over-bearing father who shuts himself from his own son. He does nothing to help the boy. Instead he remarries to overcome his own loneliness. Even with Alice, he is impatient. He does not seem to appreciate that she is trying to help Lewis. He further isolates Lewis. All this deep resentment accumulates inside the mind of Lewis and one day, he burns down the church. He is jailed for two years. No one visits him while he is there.

We observe a hypocritical society in Waterford. Here people are obssessed with proper behaviour and outer appearances. What dark thing goes on is ignored. They behave as if war did not happen. They follow a routine. There has to be church on Sunday, lunch parties at the Carmichaels', which is attended by every family. Dicky Carmichael calls the shot. He is socially much respected. But only his wife Clair, daughter Tamsin and Kit are is aware of his violent ways and they keep quiet about it. Kit bears the brunt of his beatings.

Lewis has been bruised mentally by his own father and Kit has faced beatings from a violent father. Only Kit can understand Lewis. When he realises that she loves him for what he really is, he knows he has to rescue her from her violent father.

This book is powerful. Very gripping and it asks us, who is the outcast? The boy, whom no one understands or the people who made him so? Lewis too comes to understand that none of it is his fault. Only then he finds the peace he seeks. Within himself. He comes to term with the fact that he is not flawed. The people who are around him are flawed.

As a first novel, it is a wonderful work by Sadie Jones. It kind of pulls us in from page one and keeps us riveted. Even after finishing it, I was haunted by it. Dark, brooding, yet so beautifully written.

Read another review of this book here:

Mindy Withrow