Outside by Sarah Ann Juckes
The Proof of the Outside follows the story of Ele, who is held captive in a small room by a man known as ‘Him’. Ele is determined to prove there is a world Outside. And when she finds a hole in the wall, the proof starts leaking in. In this dark and compelling debut novel, Ele’s strong and heartbreakingly optimistic voice shines through, revealing an important lesson about the power of stories to save lives.
I got a proff for this book, and just ahdn’t felt like reading it for a while. I am glad I waited as it is a heavy themed book.
But before I start on the review of the book, content warnings: rape, child abuse, sexual assault, disassociation…
Ele knows that there is an Outside, she has collected a set of “proofs” like the fact that He comes to the Inside and sometimes brings scents and other times gifts from it. She’s been trying to collect proofs and this seems like her life’s purpose.
It takes a while to set the scene and all the details that will become important later in the story, and that start was brutal and also confusing. Then Ele escapes the Inside and stays with a reclusive man and his son who is more than happy to welcome someone other than his father.
And Ele starts to figure out the Outside and the “rules” that make it, like never talking about Inside. And at the same time, her hosts are trying to figure her out and in a way help her. I know some reviews asked why the father takes his sweet time to get help from others or to question Ele further, but I can see why he wouldn’t want to pry (those who don’t want people to pry into their business tend to leave others alone, kin knows kin, not that they are related in this story). But also, if he doesn’t pry, he can build trust, and it is obvious to him that she is vulnerable. Trust is a big thing here, so he does do things in the best way he can given the circumstances.
Anyway, to tell the rest of the story would be to spoil it, but the reveals suddenly pile up, and the whole “a first person narrator is unreliable at least in one way” works beautifully with this intense story.
The reasons I gave it a low rating was that it is very brutal and the content warnings weren’t fully there (the scene set up kinda warns you where this is going, but still), and that despite the brilliant work done with an unreliable narrator, the story is slow and it kjust feels like it keeps tripping on itself a little too much. (But it may be due to my copy being an ARC, so the finished version may be better).
It was a well done book but I didn’t enjoy the story, it was a little too brutal, too intense for me.