Chatto & Windus £12.99 (245pp) £11.69(free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

The Outcast,by Sadie Jones

The hidden injuries of class

This hotly-tipped debut certainly delivers. The prose is clean and clear; so disciplined and spare it verges on thin. Then, sporadically, a kind of fever comes over the novel, and we plunge into one dramatic episode or another: self-harm, incestuous seduction, arson, battery, drowning... These scenes are handled with great skill and conviction, but recur so relentlessly that you sometimes feel as if you were reading an extremely classy misery memoir – A Child Called It retold by Richard Yates, perhaps.

We begin with the release of a young man, Lewis Aldridge, from jail in 1957. He is the privileged son of a Surrey stockbroker: how has he come to be a blight on his family and community? (The maid is afraid to be left alone in the house with him.) What was his crime, and his motivation? With a title like The Outcast, you wonder if Sadie Jones is heading for destination Camus, but there is nothing existential about her view. Mersault had no justification for his crimes of disaffection in The Outsider; there are a thousand little reasons why Lewis ends up harming himself and others. Jones sets them out with vivid exactitude.

Perhaps Lewis's biggest problem is living in the Fifties. He calls his father "sir", receives no counselling when his mother dies in an appalling accident, and is generally expected to behave like a small adult throughout his childhood. There is violence in the post-war Surrey air and Lewis seems to absorb it, and turn it upon himself. The descriptions of his self-harm are psychologically astute and precisely articulated. After deliberately burning the soles of his feet on the beach, Lewis feels them prickling inside his sandals, getting comfort from the "fascinating discomfort". The behaviour takes hold. "The bad things he did had been useful at first, but now they were stronger than he was."

We understand Lewis, and feel for him. However, this comes at a cost: oppositional characters are two-dimensional bullies. Dicky Carmichael is a pillar of the community, but at home he ogles his pretty daughter and hits the plainer one. The middle classes do not come out of this novel well. Their institutions fail Lewis, and he abuses them – particularly the church. There is a nicely underplayed passage in which Lewis hears the vicar talking, but not his words: a Mersault moment, if you like. In another echo of a famously lost boy, Lewis lets his thumb rest peacefully on the back of a girl's neck – like Holden Caulfield, he just wants stillness, not moving or stroking or any of that BS.

Comparisons with Holden Caulfield, however, remind us of what The Outcast lacks. Powerful, atmospheric and acutely observed, it is almost untarnished by wit.

There is an excruciatingly embarrassing lunch in which social scandal causes all the guests to cancel, yet the side of beef for 16 is still presented at table by the staff. Here, for just a moment, middle-class mores have been made faintly ridiculous, rather than violent or pernicious. It's a huge relief. This Fifties novel gives us more than enough reasons why the Sixties were necessary. As Lewis Aldridge heads off into that decade, we feel he truly deserves to enjoy himself.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits