By Sadie Jones
352 pages. Harper.
Lewis Aldridge, the protagonist of Sadie Jones's riveting The Outcast (Harper) divides life into befores and afters—there's before Daddy comes home from the Second World War and after, before Mummy drowns despite his struggle to rescue her and after, before prison and after. Acutely sensitive as a child, Lewis is protected by his free-spirited mother from the stifling hypocrisy of small town English life. With her death his life slides downward, and he takes the mantras of his day and class—Buck up, we'll have none of that—to mean that he shouldn't mention the incredible pain he is in. The surface of life roils along, Father gets a pretty new wife, Lewis goes to boarding school, but as surely as we know that the cautious 1950s exploded into the revolutionary '60s, we know that Lewis is a tinder keg and will blow. The tension in The Outcast is palpable and sensuous, beating loudly beneath the tranquil surface of Jones's calm prose, and Lewis never disappoints in his fight for an "after" that is happy and shame-free.