Friday, October 29, 2010
Review: The Outcast
The Outcast by Sadie Jones
Reason for reading: 2008 Costa First Novel Award winner for Book Awards Challenge
Summary (from Publisher's 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."
First line: "There was nobody there to meet him."
My thoughts: This one didn't really do it for me, I don't think I would have finished it if I hadn't been reading it for a challenge. Although then I would have missed the ending, which was the best part - not because it was over, but because some hope and joy finally flared up on the last few pages, which almost made it worth it.
Jones' writing isn't the problem, it's skillful. Her portrayal of the suffering of both Kit and Lewis is, as the review above states, "achingly real." But there's so much suffering! And it's just...dreary. Which is actually how I always sort of picture post-WW II England to be, with so many deaths and rationing still happening.
I didn't know how to feel about anyone but Kit, really. She's odd and spunky and intelligent and so terribly abused and her terrible mother is just glad it's not her getting hit. Everyone else basically just failed the two children. Although, from the beginning, Lewis was odd, to me it seemed like it was mostly due to having his weird, drunken mother's full attention while his father was off at war. I felt for the child Lewis, but by the time he was a teenager, I was getting a bit tired of him. Obviously, he should have been given some help after the tragic death (suicide) of his mother, but it was the 40's, how likely was that going to be? I wanted him to heed his father's advice not to let his mother's death be an excuse (although, it's not like his father was any kind of a great parent, he didn't know how to be, he does occasionally appear to be trying, at least). And the drinking! The entire town of Waterford is made up of drunks and/or bullies, which added more dreariness.
This isn't a particularly good review and the book probably deserves better than that, but it just wasn't my cup of tea.