Another good thing about a week spent to-ing and fro-ing to Dartington back when it was summer was the chance to listen to a complete audio book.
I suspect many of you will have read this one and it all has me wondering how different the listening experience might be for such a harrowing book.
Set partly in the mid-1950's, the book opens as Lewis Aldridge is returning home at the age of nineteen following a prison sentence of unknown origin and there is a scattering of clues in this early part, little indicators of what might have happened as someone called Alice greets him at the door of his home and his father, seething with anger drives him to the local church to show him how it looks now.
It is with flashbacks to a decade earlier that the gaps are filled as seven-year old Lewis goes to the station with his unconventional mother to meet his father Gilbert who has just been de-mobbed. Gilbert the epitome of the stiff-upper lipped returning father who jumps right back into his middle-class life as he knew it, paying scant attention to his adoring but slightly confused son who has been used to his mother's complete attention and very demonstrative love in his father's absence.
Giving you no more than the blurb, events quickly spiral into tragedy and Lewis must live with a lifetime of grief and misunderstanding following his mother's tragic death. Off to boarding school and living with a father who is colder than a fish in the holidays, Lewis gets none of the support he needs and craves, and turns in on himself.
Sadie Jones then proceeds to delineate very powerfully quite how a disturbed and emotionally deprived childhood can translate into an adolescence and young adulthood of turmoil and trauma but with a glimmer of hope. Perhaps there is some truth in that old adage, give me the child until the age of seven and I will give you the man and just perhaps that early and wonderfully positive parenting experience in Lewis's life, that emotional foundation will be sufficient to help him find the resilience he needs to survive.
I am left with a wealth of images, a firm grasp of the story and the nuances, and in a way that I think I may not have gained from reading. There is a thread of abuse weaving through this book, alcohol, emotional abuse, shocking stomach churning violence towards children, self-harming, events which have the power to shock now but perhaps were open to less public approbation back in the 1950s. Events that were often clouded in the mists of shame and the mores of social class, all jockeying for position and finding their level in those post-war years so astutely exposed by Sarah Waters in The Little Stranger.
It's how things were and nothing was said but I often find it very hard to read, yet listening as you drive doesn't allow you to dwell on it, on to the next disc, more horses and foals in the road, that feeling of journeying forward by both road and book, making The Outcast a brilliant listen that I can really recommend.
A book I am now looking forward to even more than I was, to be published in October by Yale University Press, Demobbed, Coming Home After World War Two by Alan Allport.
'Returning soldiers faced both practical and psychological problems, from reasserting their place in the family home to rejoining a much-altered labour force. Civilians worried that their homecoming heroes had been barbarised by their experiences and would bring crime and violence back from the battlefield. 'Problem veterans' preoccupied the entire country. Alan Allport draws on their personal letters and diaries, on newspapers, reports, novels and films to illuminate the darker side of the homecoming experience for ex-servicemen, their families and society at large - a gripping story that's in danger of being lost to national memory.'
I have my name on a copy of Demobbed, but if you've missed The Outcast as I had, it would make an excellent book to read or listen too in advance if you wanted to gauge and get a feel for that degree of life-difficulty faced by both the returning men and their families and I have Sadie Jones's second novel Small Wars sitting here ready and waiting.
I must also credit Dan Stevens for the most excellent reading of this one.
Easy to forget the poor person sitting there spouting into a microphone for six hours, but he did every voice quite brilliantly and differently, a completely convincing interpretation of Sadie Jones's narrative, making this a real pleasure to listen to.