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Tuesday, 25 March 2008
By Sadie Jones
This is a gripping and accomplished coming-of-age novel from a first-time author.
The setting is 1950s, middle-class England and the story opens with 19-year-old Lewis Aldridge’s release from prison, and subsequent return to his emotionally rigid father, Gilbert, and immature step-mother, Alice.
Lewis has never recovered from his mother’s accidental drowning ten years earlier. A lack of understanding resulted in his transformation from a happy child to a brooding, self-destructive teenager, whose behaviour eventually resulted in a prison sentence.
Moving between different viewpoints, we see Lewis’s earlier life and the carefree times he shared with his mother whilst his father was away during the War. When Gilbert is demobbed it becomes clear that there are problems within the family.
We meet the Carmichaels, who have a dark secret at the heart of their family, and whose daughters, Tamsin and Kit, play an important part in Lewis’s eventual coming of age.
As Lewis struggles to re-adjust to a community he never felt part of in the first place, it becomes increasingly clear he’s not the only one who has been corrupted.
This is a moving, often harrowing story of grief, loss, hypocrisy and redemption, but it’s also a love story. Despite his behaviour it’s somehow impossible not to feel sympathy for Lewis, or to root for Kit Carmichael who has idolised him from an early age.
The prose is spare and compelling, yet the author has perfectly captured the repressive social climate of the time. She also exposes the terrible consequences that can result from the denial of love, and it’s perhaps not surprising that comparisons have been drawn with Ian McEwan’s Atonement.
All in all, an impressive debut from an important new writer.
reviewed by Karen Clarke
Editor's footnote: since this review was written The Outcast has been longlisted for the Orange Prize.