Alphabet, a novel by Kathy Page (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), is a hopeful story, even though its subject, Simon Austen, is a disturbed, inarticulate, illiterate murderer who is spending his life in a British prison. What makes Simon interesting to readers is that somehow he is mustering the wherewithal to improve his own life, even though in tiny increments.
Like most of us, he takes two steps forward and one step back as he first learns to read and then begins to communicate with people, but finally he must face the question that runs beneath the surface of the story: how do you make a life after you’ve murdered someone? Simon has no miraculous breakthroughs; he doesn’t even get out of jail. But the baby steps he takes toward understanding himself give both him and his readers hope.
Page’s writing is tight, and her depiction of life in a prison, and the various programs that Simon undertakes and sometimes fails at, are believable and enthralling.