Sunday 15 February 2015

The A - Z of You and Me by James Hannah

Ivo fell for her.
He fell for a girl he can’t get back.
Now he’s hoping for something.
While he waits he plays a game:
He chooses a body part and tells us its link to the past he threw away.
He tells us the story of how she found him, and how he lost her.
But he doesn't have long.
And he still has one thing left to do ...

The A - Z of You and Me by James Hannah is published in hardback by Doubleday (Transworld) on 12 March 2015.

Over the past few years there do seem to have been a glut of books that deal with death, and with people dying. There have been lots of teenage deaths, coming of age stories that end in death and are marred by terrible illness. The A-Z of You and Me is a story narrated by a dying man, but it is a story of a life, rather than a death. It is a story that is hard hitting and full on. There are no passages of misty-eyed revelations here, or looking back and discovering that life really had been wonderful. No, this is a narrative that is full of mistakes, regrets and to some extent, hopelessness.

Ivo is in a hospice, he is not in a good way. He struggles to concentrate, he has many regrets and many sadnesses, he realises that life really is what you make it, and he's realised that maybe he didn't make the best of the past forty years. His down-to-earth, but incredibly caring nurse Sheila gives him a challenge, she tells him about the A-Z Game. Think of a part of the body that starts with each letter of the alphabet, and tell a story, or relate a memory about it.

The A-Z Game takes up a lot of thinking time, and James Hannah has created this very modern and touching story around the game. Slowly and steadily, Ivo reveals his past, and his present to the reader. It takes a while to learn just why Ivo is in the hospice, and what happened to destroy the relationship with his sister, and why the crocheted blanket that he keeps by his side is so very important to him, and to his memories.

James Hannah writes with a bluntness that can be startling, but coupled with the setting and the extraordinarily likeable characters, it really does work. The story is sad, yet it is uplifting. The characters are flawed, yet human. The setting is a place of endings, yet is beautifully calm, and at times filled with humour and lots of love.

I was very impressed by this novel, and by the creative way that it was constructed. It is a delight to read and to recommend to others.

My thanks go to Kate Green from Transworld who sent my copy for review.  The A - Z of You and Me has also been chosen as the next book for the Curtis Brown Book Group and I really look forward to the online chat with James Hannah, and other readers at the end of this month.

James Hannah divides his time between London and Shropshire, UK. 
He has a Master's degree in Beckett Studies from the Beckett International Foundation at Reading University. 
His first novel, 'The A to Z of You and Me' is published by Doubleday in 2015.

Find out more at  follow him on Twitter @JamesHannah

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