Friday, 22 July 2016

Outcast by Dianne Noble

ReviewerJJ Marsh

What we thought: A coming-of-age story with a difference.

Rose is happy, running a Cornish café and regaining her independence after her failed marriage. But when her daughter refuses to return from her gap year in India, Rose realises that an email just won’t cut it. If she really wants to prove to Ellie that she cares, she has to go to India and meet Ellie on her own terms.

The main strand of this novel is Rose’s change – she acclimatises not just to India, but to her daughter’s personality, Kolkata, heat, the caste system and the everyday injustices inflicted on society’s poorest. She begins to understand how much the volunteers matter to the children, who have, quite literally, nothing else. She also begins to understand how wide the breach between herself and Ellie remains.

In parallel, another mother/daughter relationship follows a less positive trajectory. Hannah’s looking after the café in Cornwall. She loves it. The responsibility, the order, the routine suit her perfectly and get her away from her dopehead mother. She cares for the customers, runs the place with diligence and imagination, trying to live up to Rose’s standards. Then her mother arrives in a police car, after accidentally burning down her caravan.

This is an unexpectedly touching and truthful novel of family relationships, which can lift you up or drag you down. Rose breaks her seal of safety and enters a harsh world of uncertainty, dirt and humanity. Her compassion and sympathy involve, teach and ultimately change her.

Compassion and loyalty coupled with a sense of responsibility influence Hannah, but not in the same way. Her mother’s self-indulgence and all she thought she’d escaped follow her, tainting her new life and testing her love to the limit.

This novel is as transformative as it is absorbing. Watching these characters change takes us with them, in full sensory and emotional detail. Noble conjures cultural shocks in such immersive prose – whether the limited options of a small Cornish town or the unlimited dangers of a Kolkata slum – the reader is there: hot, angry, confused, disgusted, sad, itchy and overjoyed.

This beautifully written book transports you to a place where the foreign and familiar are equally scary. A thoroughly absorbing read.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Snowdrops by AD Miller or The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Avoid if you don’t like: Realistic descriptions of the lives of Dalits (the lowest caste), detail of Indian city life, emotional upheaval

Ideal accompaniments: Spicy samosas, smoky chai and Ancestral Lullabies by The Psychedelic Muse

Genre: Contemporary, women's fiction

Available on Amazon

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