As always, huge thanks to Eye and Lightning for my EBook copy of The Outsiders ahead of publication day and many apologies for this slightly late review. The Outsiders was a smashing read and released to the world on May 31st so is available to buy now!
As the city burns during inner city riots, Paul meets two people who will change his life: Nadezhda, an elusive poet who has fallen out of fashion; and her daughter Sarah, with whom he shares an instant connection. As the summer reaches its climax his feelings for both are tested amidst secrets, lies and the unravelling of Nadezhda’s past. It is an experience that will define the rest of his life. The Outsiders moves from early-80s Liverpool, via Nadezhda’s clandestine background in war-torn Europe, through to the present day, taking in the global and local events that shape all three characters. In a powerful story of hidden histories, lost loves and painful truths ambitiously told against the backdrop of Liverpool’s fall and rise, James Corbett’s enthralling debut novel explores the complexities of human history and how individual perspectives of the past shape everyone’s present.
In the summer before he goes to Cambridge, Paul falls in love with Sarah. As the summer passes Paul falls into the orbit of Sarah’s mother, Nadezhda, an enigmatic poet, famous in London literary circles in her day who married and moved to Liverpool, starting a family with Sarah’s now absent father.
At a drunken party on the night of her unexpected death Nadezhda confides a sensational story of her life in wartime German and subsequent escape. Through a series of missteps and the lies of Paul’s schoolboy friend, Christopher, Nadezhda’s death drives a wedge between Paul and Sarah with Paul leaving for Cambridge and a career in journalism without reconciling with Sarah. Throughout adulthood Paul pines, never settling down, throwing himself into work in the warzones of Europe
The story cleverly uses the events of Liverpool’s modern history, from the Toxteth riots through the Hillsborough tragedy and it’s rebirth as a regenerated cultural centre as staging posts, as a Liverpudlian and then a journalist Paul and his friends stories are cleverly weaved into this history. The dialogue and relationships of Paul with his friends, as they move across each others lives, coming and going, is honest and believable. There are some lovely subplots with Paul’s ex-friend Christopher building a career on a willingness to lie until he earns his comeuppance.
Eventually Paul begins working to verify Nadezhda’s story, it’s told as a mystery, with Nadezhda cast as an unreliable witness and Paul having to piece together seemingly contradictory sources and rumours to build the final tale with the pace picking up as time passes and those who knew Nadezhda become fewer. In the background is Paul’s yearning to understand what happened with his lost love Sarah.
Only as the book begins to draw to an end does the real truth about the night of Nadezhda’s death and do we hear first hand what happened to Sarah.
With a storytelling style reminiscent of David Nicholls or Nick Hornby this is an engaging book of lost love and discovery.
I really enjoyed reading this book and thought it was a fantastic debut. The flow and structure really kept be engaged and the insight into each character was very well written. Another fantastic release from this publisher and one I would recommend.