Originally Posted 07/01/2016
Lying in a hospital bed, refusing visits from friends, Ivo is alone. Only his carer, Sheila, provides company – and she asks him to think of a different part of his body for each letter of the alphabet, and then to tell a tale about each one.
He does – and we follow him from A-Z, from childhood to middle age, from birth until the very edge of death, and through the love, mistakes and friendships that shape his life.
The slogan on the front cover – ‘A Comedy of Errors, A Tragedy of Small Mistakes’ initially had me quite worried – I was concerned this would turn out to be one of those issue driven novels about death that features ‘CANCER’ as a main character, and the actual people in supporting roles. Instead, this is a novel about a man and his life – the fact that the life is coming to an end gives the book an interesting flavour and a sense of urgency, but Ivo’s tales are more than interesting enough in their own right.
As for the romance that, from the blurb and front cover I gathered drove this book – fear not, this is not a particularly romantic book at all. Ivo’s love for Mia serves to humanise and soften him against some of the frankly terrible decisions he makes throughout his life, but it is never too saccharine or in your face.
This is less a book about being in love, more about being human – flawed, troubled, brilliant, stupid and funny, Ivo’s tales invite the reader to take a look at how they have lived their lives, and what they would be doing in his situation. Or perhaps I empathised with the lead character too much – it could be either!
All I know is that from beginning to read this book – when I struggled with the seemingly disjointed strands of story, and the lack of warmth that often stemmed from the main characters, I was soon drawn in by this bittersweet and genuinely tragic tale – and by the end I can’t deny that I may have shed a tear or two.
Veering well away from just being a story about a dying man, this is quite a remarkable debut from James Hannah, who according to his biography, sings, drums, play guitar and has an MA in Samuel Beckett – which is quite the combination.
This is a clever, real and vivid book, and one that I think will be very successful.
(This Review was first posted on TheBookbag -http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=The_A-Z_of_You_and_Me_by_James_Hannah)