Sebastian Faulks: A Fool's Alphabet



Life story of an Anglo Italian post war baby who never uite belongs anywhere and is oddly unsympathetic for a main character Each chapter refers to a different location each starting with the next letter of the alphabet Contrived but cleverly unfolding tale disjointed though not confusing Given up on this Don t often do that and usually enjoy his stuff Dull characters with no real sense of being invited to care about them I m a big fan of Sebastian Faulks and would count Birdsong as one of my favourite books but this book failed to hold my attention Comprising 26 alphabetically headed chapters each one the name of a place significant to Pietro Russell the protagonist the novel time shifts throughout Pietro s life I found this confusing at times and struggled to remember what age he now was This might be because I was listening to the book and was thus unable to o back and check details but it meant that I never felt the steady flow of the work Pietro also comes across as an unfinished character neither ood nor bad strong nor weak and I didn t engage with him at all There was a fair bit of informative description Paris Metro names and history place names etc and I felt that these distracted from showing the depth that was needed to commit to the characters If I had to summarise the feel of the book for me in one word I would offer diluted It needed but failed to deliver Disappointing Great book to finish the year with Beautifully crafted with 26 chapters it traces through the alphabet in place names which concern the main character Pietro Russell half Italian It s a lovely story and although it leaps through time periods it really works and you don t lose sight of Pietro even though it travels through enerations I really liked it There is nothing wrong with this book but it just doesn t soar to some of the places you expect a Sebastian Faulks novel to soar toThe mechanism for delivering the book is interesting 26 places introduced alphabetically where a different piece of mosaic making up the life of Pietro Russell is introduced But don t be thrown by the device it doesn t add but nor does it detract from the book as a wholeFor a book which time shifts so easily and which shifts na. The events of Pietro Russell’s life are told in 26 chapters From A Z each chapter is set in

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Hieved as the limpses in each chapter are too brief More revealing is the development of the characters especially Pietro himself although his father mother randfather and even Laura also emerge from the fragments Yet the fragments do not make a whole it is rather like a jigsaw puzzle where some pieces are missing What happened before Laura left Pietro at Watsonville in 1974 The parting was not acrimonious yet it was traumatic enough for Pietro to result in what seems to have been a nervous breakdownThere is some high uality writing in this book particularly on Faulk s familiar territory of France and Italy during war time but the overall impact is of a story constrained by form The contrived ending leaves one feeling as if a trick has been played the rabbit has been pulled out of the hat rather than arousing further empathy with the main character I loved Birdsong and Charlotte Grey so I was really disappointed by this book It started well but uickly became dull The concept was The Good and Beautiful God good but the tortured central character was selfish unsympathetic and boring It really dropped off before the end instead of answers or character development weot a chapter on how much he liked David Copperfield The final chapter was comically bad self indulgent I ve only recently discovered this author this is the third book of his that I ve read Each one is different all ood beautifully written nothing banal AwfulThis novel reads like a commentary to a scrap book of sorts with long descriptions of random pictures presented to us alphabetically as fragments of his life s memoriesThis budle of excerpts is uninteresting and badly researched It often felt like amateur writing Anyone who knows anything about post war Italy would know that in Sorrento in 1958 the last thing you d expect to find in a local resturant is typical northern dishes such as risotto chicken and chips and tiramis Sadly the book does not even work as a biography since Pietro s character is not developed You never et the feeling that you are etting to know him better as his memoirs unfold I read this book to the end hoping that it would somehow suddenly surprise me redeem itself and live up to Birdsong but to my disappointment it did no. Ough time in his search for a resolution to the conflicts of his life his story radually unfol.

Rrative viewpoints fairly regularly the plot is reasonably easy to follow There is no The Horse in Celtic Culture great sophistry to it despite the apparent sophistication of the mechanismMaybe what disappoints most is the main protagonist himself usually in a Faulks novel you find yourself totally engrossed in the main character whether you like loathe or are just fascinated by the development of that character Pietro Russell is a little bit of a non event though you don t really like him you don t really dislike him and you don t really care that much for how things turn out for himIt s a pleasant enough read though and where his characterization may not reach the heights it does in many of his other books his sense of place is often very well developed even though the focus jumps so radically with every chapterGlad I read it doesn t stop me still thinking of Sebastian Faulks as one of our very best contemporary authors but this one won t be added to the re read list along with most of his others Not asood as I thought it d be It was rather stilted in its writing and the characters didn t really flesh out enough that I learnt to care about them over the duration of the book Arranging a story via place names in alphabetical order is a bit of a immick and although Pietro s story does emerge the shifting time periods presumably necessitated by the imposed reuirement to follow an alphabetical order of place names do cause some confusion I found myself referring back to previous chapters to see what had come before and what after the one I was readingTowards the end of the book there is a reflection on the alphabet which casts some light on the enesis of Faulk s tale I uote The alphabet was the means by which a place became articulate Without a name it was no than a collection of buildings or a natural landmark But although places were Every Boys Dream given this access to articulacy their single utterance was void of meaning Even names whose derivation was clear like Newtown did not reveal the character of the place Aiven management of letters from the alphabet broke the silence but meaning could be rasped only by some patient human process But if the objective was to reveal the character of these 26 places it has not been ac. Different place and reveals a fragment of his story As his memories flicker back and forth thr.

Sebastian Faulks was born in 1953 and grew up in Newbury the son of a judge and a repertory actress He attended Wellington College and studied at Emmanuel College Cambridge although he didn’t enjoy attending either institution Cambridge in the 70s was still uite male dominated and he says that you had to cycle about 5 miles to meet a girl He was the first literary editor of “The Independe