In emotionally repressed post–World War II England, a sensitive boy goes tragically off the rails.
Jones’s compelling debut explores childhood damage and the fragile possibility of survival against a background of buttoned-up late-1940s and ’50s middle-class life. The heartbreaking story concerns ten-year-old Lewis Aldridge, whose mother drowns while the two are having a picnic. Gilbert, Lewis’s father, has no vocabulary with which to discuss feelings, and he denies Lewis an outlet for his pain and guilt. The boy becomes numb, withdrawn from his friends, “closed and not really there.” But there’s also a well of rage within him which expresses itself when Gilbert announces a swift remarriage, and again when another boy (correctly) describes Lewis’s dead mother as “drunken.” There’s a lot of drinking in this story: Both Gilbert’s wives use alcohol as a means to dull their anguish and Lewis too discovers in his early teens that gin can soothe him, as can cutting himself with a razor. But the rage and isolation still build and finally he burns down the village church, ending up sentenced to prison for two and a half years. The only person who understands him is Kit Carmichael, daughter of bullying, abusive Dicky Carmichael, Gilbert’s boss. On Lewis’s release, when once again his ability to control himself wavers, it’s Kit’s love for him which eventually—after perhaps too many acts of violence and transgression—allows the young couple to move forward together.
A confident, suspenseful and affecting first novel, delivered in cool, precise, distinctive prose.