Sadie Jones is a new novelist from London. Before she turned her hands to books she was a screenwriter.
First Published: 2007
Date Reviewed: 2nd June 2009
The Outcast has done very well. It garnered rave reviews and Jones herself a lot of respect and an expected glittering future as a successful novelist. Signalled as a great summer read (often one to be wary of) and with a cover that, although attractive, glazes the eye with low expectations, the book is a shocking tale of domestic violence and unnecessary discipline hidden behind a veil of flowers, forests, and the beautiful English countryside.
Lewis has been in jail the last two years for reasons unexplained. He is neither joyful nor unhappy to be back; to him life is exactly how he left it. When he was ten years old his mother drowned and he was the only one there. There was little comfort to be found amongst family and friends, everyone expected him to pull his socks up and be a man. Kit has lived for years in love with Lewis and in hate of her family. She has been broken down just like him. The book takes the reader through their past in order to discover the reason for their turmoil and continues until a couple of months after Lewis’s arrival back home from prison where the two finally find their solace.
The book begins quite abstractly, as Lewis comes home, and we don’t know anything about him. But just when you’ve started to accept the idea that you’ve been thrown into his life at random, Jones takes us back on the journey where we meet Kit and, as much as one can through a book, live their childhood alongside them. We learn a lot about them, their family, and their surroundings – every detail that is needed in order to feel a part of their world is included.
Detail is something that Jones does to perfection. It may be in part due to her choice of period and setting and the pure bliss that radiates often when readers in this modern society encounter them, but mostly it’s down to her passion. She doesn’t use “big words” yet promotes a picture so strong that creating the backdrop in your mind of her story is easy and not the difficult and time consuming task it can often be with other authors’ work. Everything you need to paint your landscape has been put out already on the palette ahead of your arrival; all you need to do as a reader is fill the canvas with the colours provided. My own creation was very clear and I basked in it; the little things I did create from scratch matched Jones’s text completely as she had given me enough of a foundation to work with – and that’s a mark of a good writer.
Still in the realms of detail, the information Jones presents regarding day-to-day life can be quite subtle but again it assists greatly in helping to get the story moving. The more detail, the more one is pulled in, the quicker they read the book, and the more satisfied they feel.
For the first several chapters the reader may find themselves wondering where all the darkness referred to on the back cover of the book is. The story is for sometime dreamy and idyllic, dull even, and it’s hard to see why it’s so loved. But when the darkness comes, while it certainly isn’t the most horrific darkness out there, it never lets up, always hanging over the characters like a strong black cloud about to release it’s wears. Jones never makes excuses for the pain and violence and thrusts everything out in the open, like her main character does at the end of the book. We read about the self-harming in all its bloody pain, and the scars, and the bruises from domestic violence, and it makes for difficult reading – but it makes you think.
The ending is exceptional and has all the makings of a high-grossing film. One aspect of the book that Jones makes obvious is the way Lewis sits on the train and while reading it can seem an irritation. At the end she explains herself by having Lewis sit the opposite way. It’s fantastic imagery; where once he watched the train pull away from the station, leaving him separated and alone, now at last he watches it move along it faster and faster, towards happiness.
Perhaps the real reason why this book is so difficult to read, again something subtle that takes until after you’ve finished it to realise, is the lack of parental care towards the children. One reviewer remarked that Jones had shown the careless nature of a typical middle-class fifties parent flawlessly, and a quick browse through the book reveals this to be true. It’s difficult to read because Lewis needs love and love only to get over his pain, he can’t simply pull his socks up, and we know this from the beginning and that’s what’s so frustrating because in our world today parents are much more in tune with their children.
The one and only kink in this otherwise smoothly written novel is the language. There are times when Jones displays a distinct lack of the articulation generally expected from one such storyteller as herself. Phrases like “he played that there were lions” rather than the usual “he pretended that there were lions” and “speeded up” instead of “sped up” grate against the otherwise finely-tuned composition. Fortunately these occasions are few and far between.
The Outcast is a beautiful yet haunting novel of two broken lives that has at its heart long-lasting love and redemption. It would appeal to anyone seeking something historical and engrossing yet lighter than most. Not quite the regular summer read advertised it is a book that will remain with you long after reading without leaving you wanting. Sheer excellence.