Book Review: Alphabet, by Kathy Page

This review originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.

In Alphabet, Kathy Page (Paradise and Elsewhere) explores the inner workings of Simon Austen, a complicated, confused and confusing criminal sentenced to life in prison for murdering his girlfriend. Tattooed across Austen's body are words he has been called in his lifetime of mistakes: "threat to women," "dumb," "waste of space." They mark him as a criminal and a killer--but they also give some insight into how Simon came to be the man he is today, shaped as much by his mother's abandonment and his experience in foster care when he was a young child as by the crime he committed and by the British penal system of the late 1980s.

Alphabet tracks Austen's time in prison over several years, from the high-security facility where he struggles to show remorse to the rehabilitation clinic where various therapies aim to "cure" him of his dangerous sexual leanings and help him reinvent himself. Page weaves together Austen's complex inner dialogues and accounts of his experiences in prison, revealing him as a multifaceted human being: not a cold-blooded killer, but rather a sympathetic character, struggling to understand that love and friendship are ultimately what free us, not what jail us. Along the way, Alphabet transforms from a novel of crime and punishment into a nuanced psychological profile of a killer, ultimately providing a gut-wrenching reminder of the atrocities contained within institutional walls and the lengths to which we are willing to go in order to protect our innermost selves.


A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review.
Alphabet | Kathy Page | Biblioasis | Trade Paper | October 2014 | Buy from an independent bookseller near you

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