Random House, £16.99 (5CDs)
Audiobook of the week: The Outcast by Sadie Jones (read by Dan Stevens)
Sunday 19 October 2008
When 19-year-old Lewis Aldridge is released from prison in 1957, we have no idea what his crime was. He goes home to Surrey, to his jittery step-mother Alice and his ice-cold father Gilbert, and wonders what to do next.
Little by little the story comes out. Lewis's mother – beautiful and unconventional – had devoted herself to her son while Gilbert was away in the army. But when Lewis is 10 she dies in a ghastly accident he is incapable of describing, and he is enveloped in grief.
In terse, vivid prose, Sadie Jones describes his helpless disintegration, against a background of apparent social respectability. Period details (sherry at 12.30, avenues of rhododendrons) emphasise the repressed hypocrisy of his neighbours' mock-Tudor lives.
Dan Stevens is the perfect reader for this remarkably original, accomplished and compelling book. The ground-bass of his voice is steady, low and tense, yet when the text requires it he is as capable of light flirtatiousness as of furious rage. One man emerges as the real villain of the piece: slimy Dickie Cunningham, rich, manipulative and sadistic, given to beating his daughter. Stevens reads him as if smiling between clenched teeth. When Lewis finally exposes him as the brute he is, in a magnificently cathartic penultimate scene, you want to cheer.
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