The A-Z of You and Me by James Hannah

Ivo is living out his final days in a hospice, although at forty he feels too young to be there.  His nurse Sheila suggests a game to keep his mind active.  Proceeding through the alphabet from A to Z, Ivo has to pick a part of the body beginning with that letter and tell a story relating to it.

Through this game, the reader is given snapshots of Ivo’s life from childhood to the present day, interspersed with his current situation in the hospice as his health gradually deteriorates.  He has blocked out all of the people that are close to him, and as they try to reach out to him, we start to understand some of the choices he’s made and the regrets that he carries with him.

Given Ivo’s situation, you be forgiven for expecting this to be a harrowing story.  It’s anything but.  The A-Z of You and Me is told with a warmth and gentle humour that surprised me.  This isn’t a drawn out portrayal of Ivo’s deterioration, nor is it an overly sentimental affair.  It’s a lovely tale of life and love and loss, and Ivo lives out his final days with quiet dignity, not wanting to make a fuss.

I liked Ivo, even though I thought he was a bit of an idiot at times.  He’s essentially a good guy who’s made some terrible choices (who hasn’t?), and he doesn’t seem to learn from past mistakes until it’s too late.  His friends are obnoxious and he’s a sucker for peer pressure, which means that he rolls from one bad situation to the next without really thinking things through.  His girlfriend Mia is one of the few likeable individuals in his life, and it’s through his time with her that we see his best side.  Through playing the A to Z game, there’s a real sense of regret for the choices he’s made and the lifestyle he’s chosen.

I thought the the alphabetic approach was original and innovative.  Despite being told out of sequence, the short sections merge together seamlessly, and I read this in two sittings.  And the ending was perfect – beautifully written (as is the whole novel) and evocative.  This is an accomplished debut novel, and fans of David Nicholls will love it.

The A-Z of You and Me is available now in hardback, and the paperback edition will be published on 27 August 2015.  Many thanks to Alison Barrow at Transworld for providing a review copy.

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