The Edge of the Alphabet was written after Frame’s travels to England and, like her other novels, contains elements of autobiography. The novel is narrated by Thora Pattern, one of many elusive impostor narrators to be encountered in Frame’s novels. She tells the story of Toby Withers (the same name, but not the same character as in Owls Do Cry), who is an epileptic New Zealander traveling to London to find his “center.” Equally important are Zoe Bryce, an English spinster schoolteacher, and Pat Keenan, an Irish bus driver. What they all have in common is their marginality, something that many of Frame’s characters possess. Marginality can be defined as a distance from a privileged center, whether that distance be social (the misfit or outcast), economic (the poor or the working class), political (the unsophisticated colonial), or sexual (the unloved spinster). Frame’s novels often explore the process and effects of marginalization.
The edge of the alphabet is a metaphor for what is peripheral or marginalized, and it works on several levels. Toby, for instance, is marginalized by his epilepsy. He is not normal, not acceptable to other people. Even in his inner world, he is alienated from his central self by his fragmenting epileptic fits. He is further marginalized by being a New Zealander, someone far from the geographical “center” that England represents. When Toby mentions in England that he is from New Zealand, people...
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