Alphabet

by Kathy Page | Children's Books |
ISBN: 0753818612 Global Overview for this book
Registered by seethroughfaith of Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on 10/26/2007
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5 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by seethroughfaith from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Friday, October 26, 2007
Simon Austen is serving a life sentence for murder. Intelligent but illiterate, charming but also damaged and manipulative, he admits to what he's done but his motives are far from clear, even to himself.

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.

Journal Entry 2 by seethroughfaith from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Monday, October 29, 2007
Helen Dunmore writes: In Alphabet "Kathy Page writes beautifully combining strong storytelling, emotional candour and lyricism" I'm glad that she doesn't stop at "beautifully" because this is actually a very stark book and neither the topic or the language is beautiful at all.

Similarly,

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)

and

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.


Journal Entry 3 by seethroughfaith from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The second section of the book (paradoxically A) finds Simon in a different prision - more of a rehabiliation centre. The techniques used by the psycologist and therapist are shocking to say the least.

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.

Journal Entry 4 by seethroughfaith from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Monday, November 24, 2008
Had this on my PC for a while
noticed it was on a BC-ers wish list -and thought why not... ?

Journal Entry 5 by seethroughfaith at Tampere, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Monday, November 24, 2008

Released 10 yrs ago (12/24/2008 UTC) at Tampere, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland

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Toivon sinulle hyvääjoulu

(HGG RABCK)

Journal Entry 6 by winglukutuoliwing from Tampere, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Thursday, December 04, 2008
Ooohh - what a lovely surprise!! Thank you, seethroughfaith, for this wishlist book of mine - I've read one book by this author before and wanted immediately to read something more by her. Now I'll have a chance :) Thanks for the permanent marker as well, I tested it already and it is super!!
Wishing you Happy Christmas, too - HYVÄÄ JOULUA!

Journal Entry 7 by winglukutuoliwing from Tampere, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Thursday, August 27, 2009
I really liked this book, it was impressive and fascinating! It was interesting to notice, that Kathy Page could make Simon Austen such a symphatic character, although he was a murderer as well. This wasn't an easy book to read and it took me a long time to go through it, but the text was addictive and I didn't wait for the book to end. I've read The Story of My Face by this author before, and I liked it, too. Now I'm waiting to find more books by Page :)

Journal Entry 8 by wingBookgeowing from Pirkkala, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Thursday, September 10, 2009
I took this book home with me from today's BC meeting as lukutuoli strongly recommended it. This will be my first reading experience from Kathy Page, let's see how it goes. Thanks!

Journal Entry 9 by wingBookgeowing from Pirkkala, Pirkanmaa / Birkaland Finland on Monday, March 22, 2010
This was a very complex book for me. The main adjectives that come to my mind are harsh and violent. Perhaps I was left with some coldness, the book brought less emotions than I expected and did not get me fully gripped into the story. I kind of felt like everything in this story was doomed for bad or weird solutions. I would have wished for more hope and encouraging self-discovery for Simon, he was so brightly intelligent.

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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Journal Entry 11 by palmeirim from Lisboa - City, Lisboa (cidade) Portugal on Monday, May 03, 2010
Picked up this book at Palácio Galveias when releasing "Pillars of the Earth". Took me a while to pick up as I was reading "Time Traveller's Wife" - which I will release shortly. Curious to start on it though, after reading the entries...

Journal Entry 12 by Di78 from Lisboa - City, Lisboa (cidade) Portugal on Thursday, May 20, 2010
Picked up this book at Feira do Livro today. To be read soon :)

Journal Entry 13 by palmeirim at Lisboa - City, Lisboa (cidade) Portugal on Friday, May 21, 2010

Released 9 yrs ago (5/19/2010 UTC) at Lisboa - City, Lisboa (cidade) Portugal

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Feira do Livro a perfect place for release

Journal Entry 14 by palmeirim from Lisboa - City, Lisboa (cidade) Portugal on Friday, May 21, 2010
"Alphabet"didn't "hook" me right away. The first chapters I somehow
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
abundant...

Journal Entry 15 by Di78 at Castaway in Koh Lipe, Satun Thailand on Thursday, April 27, 2017

Released 2 yrs ago (4/27/2017 UTC) at Castaway in Koh Lipe, Satun Thailand

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Its time for this book to continue his journey.

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