Welcome to Orange July, the annual event to read Orange Prize winners & nominees! We’re now six days into the event, and I’ve finished two books. I read The Lacuna first, acting on my June 13 Orange Prize rant. I liked the idea of kicking off Orange July by reading this year’s prize winner, and it was a really good book, too (read my review). For the rest of the month, my Midweek @ Musings posts will focus on Orange July. Today I’m reviewing a 2008 shortlisted work, The Outcast by Sadie Jones.
Are you participating in Orange July? What are you reading?
When he was only 10 years old, Lewis Aldridge witnessed a terrible tragedy. Unable to express his feelings and shunned by his father, Lewis grew up a troubled young man. The Outcast opens with a prologue set in 1957, when 19-year-old Lewis is returning home after two years in prison. Sadie Jones then takes her readers back in time to recount Lewis’ childhood and the events that led him to commit a crime.
Lewis’ father Gilbert served in World War II, and when he returned home in 1945 Lewis was only 7. He didn’t really know his father at all, and struggled with his intrusion into the family and his close relationship with his mother. After the tragedy, Lewis withdrew into himself. The other children in his village didn’t know how to respond to him, and the adults were disturbed by his silence. In his teens, Lewis expressed his intense grief and self-loathing in increasingly harmful ways, eventually leading to imprisonment.
As Lewis’ life fell apart, he couldn’t help but compare himself with the Carmichaels, a model family in his village. Dicky Carmichael was Gilbert’s boss; he and his wife Claire host an annual New Year’s party and weekly Sunday lunches, all with plenty of cocktails to go around. Dicky and Claire’s older daughter Tamsin is a beautiful young woman who knows how to use her sexuality; their younger daughter Kit is precocious and cares deeply for Lewis. But the Carmichaels have dark secrets of their own, which remain carefully concealed even as the Aldridge family’s troubles are exposed to public viewing.
When Lewis is released from prison, he is thrust back into village society and gossip, and struggles to find his way. He gravitates toward the Carmichael girls, even as their parents reject him because of his criminal record. Tensions escalate, particularly after Lewis discovers the Carmichael secret, and all hell breaks loose.
I read this book in two days, because I just couldn’t put it down. Lewis is a sympathetic character, and I was pulling for him throughout. He had been through so much, and had so little support. It was easy to see how he became so troubled, and I nearly cried whenever he began to go off the rails, or struggled with his place in society. The Outcast is intense, dramatic, and highly recommended.