A Fool’s Alphabet is Sebastian Faulks’ third novel and was published in 1992, just a year before the release of Birdsong, his most famous work to date. It tells of the life of Pietro Russell, born shortly after the Second World War to an English soldier father and young Italian mother, in a series of short snapshots set in different times and places. The book is divided into twenty six chapters, each of which is set in a location beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Gradually, the reader has to compile these fragments of different locations and shifting time patterns to piece together Pietro’s life and get a real sense of who the character is, and why the character is.
Sebastian Faulks could probably reprint the telephone directory, and I would find it captivating. He has a wonderful way of representing people in such a matter-of-fact, lifelike way, so that the reader can really feel like they’re getting inside the heads of his characters and fully understand exactly what’s going on there. With regards to the plot, there’s nothing particularly dramatic that sticks in the memory, but in a sense I think that’s the point. The book essentially is a narrative of Pietro’s attempts to achieve something or understand his life; basically he just wants more. I think a lot of people can relate to the idea of waiting for something remarkable, or just something, to happen in their life. Mainly, this book is the waiting and the searching.
After reading Birdsong I have high expectations for Faulks’ books, but this is not to say that A Fool’s Alphabet didn’t meet my expectations. Comparison to a book so vividly memorable as Birdsong would be unfair, but it is safe to say that he hadn’t yet reached the height of his work by the time A Fool’s Alphabet was published. Having said that, A Fool’s Alphabet was much easier to read. I managed it in a couple of instalments, as the bitesize chapters made it so much easier to just keep going, and the constantly changing settings and their events maintain the reader’s curiosity about how all these mini stories will piece together. I did find the chronology a struggle though, and found I had to keep flicking back to the start of a chapter to work out its timeframe in relation to the next chapter. Despite this, it did keep me interested, and I find that I’m still wondering about Pietro a few hours after finishing the book. Although there wasn’t much happening in the way of plot, it’s Faulks’ characters which fascinate me, and he didn’t disappoint.