Book 3 of my Top 20 is The Outcast by Sadie Jones
Category: Literary Fiction
Much has been said about the bleak subject matter by other reviewers. Many reviews I have seen speak to the oppressive nature of the book, but I really do not see it that way. Yes it is not a story of romance in the classic sense, but it is enthralling and real in a way that is lacking in these conventional stories. The style is brittle and direct rather like the folk who inhabit the story.
There is no denying this is not your normal women's fiction, the themes of alcoholism, domestic violence and self harm are effecting and Sadie Jones does not stray from depicting them honestly and unflinchingly. The violence and misery behind closed doors is a prevailing theme and the claustrophobia of a post war small town is all the more heavy because of it.
One might not understand the compulsion to beat another into submission or to inflict pain on oneself as the only means to release, and it is hard to relate to the remote and troubled Lewis, but when you take a step back and realise from where it stemmed, you suddenly realise just how strong he had to be to get through his childhood even in this way.
His mother is smothered by middle class snobbery and her developing dependence on booze to get through the day is her downfall. His father remote and unable to adapt to domestic life afters his service in the war and further alienated by his inability to break into the cocoon of co dependence set up by Lewis's mother as a defence against the world she despises. She unfairly created a life for Lewis that left him remote and then by leaving in such tragic circumstances, left him to inhabit it alone without giving his father a realistic way to reach him in both their times of grief.
He gets through, his coping strategies are limited, but he survives.
It's not all bleak, the idea of Lewis provides comfort and succour for Kit, whose dark confinement behind the mask of social standing and respectability set up by her utterly repellant parents and the blameless but silently complicit elder sister is pierced by the sunlight when Lewis is around. The injustice of his treatment by all the "respectable people" in town gives her a power of her own to suffer the twin torments of violent chastisement and utter ambivalence to her presence the rest of the time. In the end her small rebellions are for notice of any kind, but Lewis sees her. He sees her as she really is, a child forced to confront the reality and cruelty of real life far too early.
Not an easy read emotionally, but knowing that eventually two lost souls find each other and struggle to free themselves from what were horrendous situations is actually what ultimately makes this a story of redemption and satisfying. That we do not get a definitive happy ever after is actually very refreshing, we are free to imagine the ultimate resolution for Lewis and Kit and in my mind, they live a life grateful for each other and spent lancing the poison of their shared childhoods so that although scarred they heal entirely.
BRIEF WORD: The BBC two -part adaptation was outstanding, wonderfully cast and evoking the feeling of the book entirely.
Why is this in my Top 20 Books?
The idea of these two children brutalised both emotionally or physically by the blatant turning away by decent respectable folk who prefer to think that life is idyllic again now that the fighting has ceased and ignoring the awful affect six years at war had inflicted is interesting to me. Lewis is not a romantic hero, but the affection and love he develops for Kit is deeper and somehow purer for his flaws. Here we have a tale of redemption that touches the heart whilst still leaving the reader shaken to the core.