April’s book from my list of books to re-read this year was The Outcast by Sadie Jones and I totally cheated and read it early because I was stuck in a book rut and just itching to read this one again- oops! It does seem rather fitting though because a couple of days later I heard (via twitter) that it has been adapted for TV and is going to be shown on the BBC later this year, which I’m very excited about. So I think you should all GO READ THE BOOK RIGHT NOW before it is, so you can be blown away by it twice 😉
Like The Gargoyle, and The Book Thief, two of the other three books I’ve re-read so far this year, it was only my second time reading The Outcast. I initially came across it totally by accident, having got it as a swap a few years ago from Read It Swap It. In fact I found this little slip of paper inside it this time and ended up using it as a makeshift bookmark:
I can’t actually remember the book I swapped it for but I am so glad I did, whatever it was. The Outcast had me totally hooked from the first page. The first time I finished it in two days, this time it took just one, but to be fair I was recovering from a vomiting bug this time, so spent the entire day in the bath/bed, which definitely helped.
The atmosphere in the book is so suffocating and the pacing so tense that putting it down even for a bathroom break or to get a drink feels a bit like coming up for a gulp of air after being submerged under water, but then willingly sticking your head back in. Which actually, if you read the book, you’ll see is a rather fitting metaphor.
So, you’re probably wondering what it’s actually about?
Essentially, it’s the story of Lewis. a young boy coming of age in the stifling decade of the 1950’s.
Now, when I first read this book I was going on and on at Chris for days afterwards about how good it was and when I told him when it was set he dismissed it immediately, which to be fair didn’t exactly surprise me because I knew that would be his reaction BUT I still feel sad for him now because man, is he missing out. So I hope no one else lets the era put them off. It does play a huge role in the storyline- with his father coming home from the war when he’s a young boy and the social expectations of the time a constant nagging force in his life, and god just the unbearably repressed atmosphere- arrgghhh, even thinking about it makes me tense, but like- in a good way, I think?! Seriously, this is one of those books where I get just so incredibly wound-up on behalf of the main character that I’m sure it can’t be good for my health, but it sucks you in so wonderfully, that you’re somehow wooed and enraged at the same time.
When I said it’s the story of Lewis- yes it is, but it’s also the story of his parents, and neighbours and about the effects of tragedy and grief and misunderstanding, the varying ways people cope (or not) and the importance of love and acceptance.
I don’t want to give too much away so won’t tell you all the things I love about the book but I will say that one thing I personally particularly liked is the way it handles the issue of self harm. It isn’t trotted out for shock value (although taking a blade to your own skin is never not shocking, even when you’re the one doing it) and it isn’t given sole-focus in the storyline from that point forward, but is a thing that happens- a thing that he sometimes does, that he feels mixed emotions about, but overwhelmingly shame. And as someone who self harmed for years, I think Sadie Jones does an incredibly good job of portraying not just the act itself- and the cover up but all the feelings that come with it and with being ‘found out’.
I also love how grief is portrayed, not as though it’s a straight line to walk down but a blur to pass through that at some times seems thicker than others.
I think my most favourite thing though is just the characters themselves, they are all flawed- some hideously so, but all very real. It didn’t require much effort for me to imagine that this cast of people actually existed, which is sort of terrifying, but of course wonderful too because isn’t that the point of a good book- to make you believe it could be real?
Obviously, if you haven’t gathered by now, it is one of my favourite books ever and I absolutely think you should go away and read it.
I, on the other hand am going to go away and try NOT to read the next book on my list because I am supposed to be waiting until May to share my thoughts on The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney with you…we’ll see if I can last that long I guess?! It’s not like I don’t have a HUGE pile of unread books waiting for me…literally, look at them all:
(and that doesn’t even include the ones on my kindle!)
It’s just that now I’ve started re-reading all these amazing books I haven’t read for ages, I can’t seem to stop…