5 journalers for this copy...
Then Simon learns to read and write. ... and stumbles towards self-knowledge and redemption
Lured by the 20% off in Stockann I bought this. Not sure if I'll enjoy it or not.
Erwin James, Guardian columnist and author of A Life Inside writes: Alphabet "is a wonderful book, peculiar, intense, revealing, challenging and above all riveting ... I kept saying to myself, how could she know this?"
The book is divided into three sections B, A, C - each refering to a prision wing and after having read the first third (B) I thought I'd write my first comment because this really is a thought-provoking novel.
My first impression is that this is a very rough book. I don't mean roughly put together - on the contrary this is skillfully crafted, but the language and the images are stark and violent.
The plot so far is simple - the main character,Simon, - inmate of HM penal system enters prison (life sentence for murder)- is illiterate. Inside he learns to read
Smoke? Ted asks as he sits down the first time. Next time he brings a paper bag of assorted sweets, sweets for God's sake. A for aniseed, B for butterscotch, C for candy twist: it doesn't have to be apple, ball, cat. It can be anything you want it doesn't even have to start at the beginning and march through to the end.
sometimes he loses patience. A for aggro. B for bastard. C for ...
"G for get on with it. I don't give up easily." Ted says.
So far so good. But this isn't (yet) a story of redemption as far as I can tell.
I have no doubt that a lot of detail in part B is true to life. The way of life in this high security prison- the stench and sordid details - are described in vivid detail. It's gruesome. The things Simon does to get his letters smuggled out ... make me shudder.
But worse for me are the tattoos. This is a thread thoughout section B - possibly throughout the whole book.In the interests of self dislosure here I should say that the thought of any tattoo makes me shudder... and most of Simon's tattoos are self-done - with a needle and a biro (ballpoint pen) ... cringe!
He gets the sewing needle out of the radio, strikes a spark from his flint, lights a Marlboro and uses that to heat up the point till it glows red, waits, then pushes it in, again, again, again as dense as possible. Rub in, wipe off when it's done. Doesn't hurt beyond what he can stand, it's more that after a while he feels he's passing out. ... So -BITCH: it's on the right forearm, nicely blancing out, on the left arm PRICK. ... Altogether he has a fair number of words on him now. There are mostly things he has been called since he came inside, mostly bad. ARROGANT, WASTE OF SPACE, BASTARD, SHIT and so on, he's got all those, plus one or two from before that stuck in his mind, like IMPOSSIBLE, WEIRDO, CARPET-FITTER, MURDERER, BRUTAL and COLD, which were the judge's words for him. BRIGHT, he was called when he was in Education and he had had that one done properly, on his back.
The ink goes in under the skin and once the scab is off there you are, it's yours to keep. Some of them have turned out better than others and a couple of the older ones do have spelling mistakes, but even so no-one laughs at him when he strips to shower because they know he'll go apeshit if they do, because this, he thinks, this is what I am. (p44)
just makes me feel sick. The physical pain, but also the mental /emotional anguish which would propel someone to do this. My oh my!
The tattooing continues
I've got to get out of here,he's thinking, as, overcoming her surprise, she grasps the offered right hand, the one with DUMB tattooed on the backs of the fingers, and gets to her feet. (p 83)
Simon squats to one side, leans in close, first there are a series of light marks as he meansures the word out across Simon's chest, then the ballpoint presses into the newly exposed skin as it moves steadily around the shape of each letter, from right to left across Simon's chest. COURAGEOUS.
This makes me think.
Worse it makes me shudder. I want to throw up.
Mostly I'm reminded of the rhyme in English playgrounds " sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" - but they do. Labels can be so destructive can't they? and sometimes we never shrug them off.
But the best laugh - though a crude one- I got in the whole book was from here - again within the tattoo theme
Is that, Simon thinks but does not ask, a ph and a single t in 'erotophobic'? Given that someone yesterday called him an introvert, he's collecting quite a few longish words. So, where's he going to fit them all in, let alone find the time to have them done? On his cock?
The pivotal point in the novel is perhaps here too - on p 129
Words can't hurt you, not if you take charge of them.
The last section of the book C is much shorter than the first two. It's also shocking in a very different way. I read this part twice because the way the story wove together fascinated me. It's very well written and as the critic said 'riveting'
I found out that the author spent one year as Writer in Residence in HMP (Her Majesty's Prison) Nottingham and also visited many men's prisons at this time. It explains how she knew a lot about the subject - and the other subject she touched upon in section C also seems to have been well researched.
Does Simon get his redemption you might be wondering?
You'll just have to read the book to find out!
For now I'm putting this as AVL but won't release it for a while. I think I'd like to read this again in the future, but would be happy to loan it out. And I'm giving this a 9 though to say I enjoyed it would be wrong. It's really rather a disturbing book and the language and graphic detail (especially of sexual and violent nature) means that this is definitely not a book for everyone.
noticed it was on a BC-ers wish list -and thought why not... ?
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
Toivon sinulle hyvääjoulu
Wishing you Happy Christmas, too - HYVÄÄ JOULUA!
And yes, the tattoo descriptions were truly revolting.
I will release this book abroad soon.
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
It was really nice to visit this OBCZ during my Lisbon holiday and release some books there. Thanks to Marcenda for Lisbon BC tips :). A beautiful library building and nice BC shelf.
Happy reading and greetings from Finland!
2010 Keep Them Moving # 13
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CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
Feira do Livro a perfect place for release
felt the author was getting through that part of the story to get on to the
rest...at a certain point however I found myself reaching for it at shorter
intervals and then was quite put off by its ending when it did, leaving me wanting to know how Simon carried on with his life!
Also had me thinking if institutions like the one decribed, where inmates are seen almost like little white mice on which to experiment, are