The Outsider

Isabella Fels
The Outsider is about a man named Charles who had a mental illness. The book is written by his son. Charles's illness made him so unwell he became homeless. His wife and son stopped seeing him. But years later and after Charles's death, his son finds people who knew his father. He speaks to them to find out how his father lived his life. I think the book covers many symptoms of mental illness. But I also think parts of the illness are not clearly explained. However, this book is a strong account of one man's total desperation and defeat by schizophrenia.
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Isabella Fels on 15/08/2012
A homeless man sitting on a crate next to a shopping trolley filled with his possessions.

Charles became homeless.

The Outsider by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer is a great account of the true story of his father Charles's struggle and descent into paranoid schizophrenia.

At the age of 20 Nathaniel lost touch with his father. His father would die 14 years later. The book is about Nathaniel doing everything he can to piece together and try to understand his father's illness. There are parts of the book that are clear and others not so clear as we see Nathaniel trying to fill in the missing pieces.


Charles's illness comes at a great personal cost. Before the age of 38 he has lost his job and home, and most importantly his wife and son. The huge transition of Charles being a brilliant academic to a homeless person is shocking to read.

We are taken on the wild journey of a man affected and possessed by schizophrenia as seen through his son's eyes. During his illness Charles is often confused, incoherent, out of control. At one stage in his life, he is so lice infested he is turned away from a homeless shelter. On another occasion, he is refused entry into a bank because he wrongly believes they owe him huge sums of money. He also believes his thoughts can be read by organisations such as the CIA.

Family loss

The book focuses on Charles's mother Dottie and her abandonment of him. At the age of three months Charles is shuttled off to his aunt's place, only to be sent back to his mother a few years later. Nathaniel believes this experience great destabilised his father, as did Dottie's strong and strict religious beliefs.

As a teenager and young adult Charles rebels against his mother's Christian principles and begins drinking. He also starts to make friends with the wrong crowd. His psychological state continues to deteriorate.

He eventually moves away from his mother but her influence over him is so strong he continues to hear her voice and see her ghost even 20 years after her death.

Father and son

When Charles's wife and his son Nathaniel leave him, Charles is deeply affected. Nathaniel's last parting words to Charles are, I cannot live in your world, you cannot live in mine. The comment causes Nathaniel to feel guilt, and Charles grief.

However Nathaniel tried to compensate for ending his relationship with his father. After Charles's death he talks to as many people as possible to get a sense of his father's life. He tracks down and speaks to Charles's relatives, university colleagues, police, homeless people and owners of bars where Charles frequented. Sadly, an insight into his father comes too late.


Unfortunately, theories central to schizophrenia such as the double bind theory is poorly described in relation to Charles and his mother. This is a theory that focuses on how a child can be confused about whether they are being rewarded or punished by their parent.

The thought control theory, where Charles believes his thoughts are able to be read by government and the CIA is also unclear.

However the book does cover many symptoms of mental illness. For instance when Charles believes he is the King of England, which is written in a darkly humorous way.

The Outsider stands out as a raw account of one man's total desperation and defeat by schizophrenia.


Support is available for anyone who may be distressed.

Lifeline - 24 hour telephone counselling - 131 114

Kids Helpline - under 18 years of age - 1800 551 800

Just Ask - rural mental health information - 1300 131 114

Men's Line Australia - 24 hour telephone counselling - 1300 789 978

Salvation Army - 24 hour telephone counselling - 1300 363 622

ReachOut! - website for young people (opens new window)

SANE Helpline - mental illness information, support and referral - 1800 187 263

beyondblue Information Line - information about depression, anxiety and related substance abuse disorders, treatments and help - 1300 224 636

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