Sadie Jones - The Outcast (4 stars)

Sadie Jones

Family drama

Chatto & Windus

Sadie Jones’ postwar tale of one boy’s cruel alienation from family and community might be able to beat a handful of Valium as a downer, yet there’s still something achingly compelling about it that keeps the pages turning remarkably quickly for a debut novel. Amid the rose bushes, Sunday roasts and stifling conformity of one 1950s upper-middle class English village, Lewis Aldridge’s only kindred free spirit is his mother Elizabeth. When she dies, he’s left in the care of his recently de-mobbed and unloving father Gilbert and steadily goes off the rails.

The cycle of booze, bullying, violence, prison, mental anguish and self-harm which follows is unrelentingly grim, but controlled confidently by Jones, who never lets on whether tragedy or transgression will be the outcome until the last. Her efforts to loosely tie Lewis’ plight to the newly emerging jazz and rock’n’roll culture of the times might be weak, but The Outcast is still an impressively assured arrival. (Malcolm Jack)

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