Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Guest Book Review: James Hannah - The A to Z of You and Me

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

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...

Amazon links: Kindle or Hardcover

The A-Z of You and Me is the second choice in the Curtis Brown Book Group. Once again it was a book I would probably never have picked up but I love how this group has opened my eyes to different genres and new authors. James Hannah has made his literary debut with this impressive book that gives us all plenty of food for thought. Despite being only 275 pages long, a lot is packed in amongst the pages and I read this in an afternoon despite the tough, sensitive subject matter. The plot of a man lying in a hospice bed would normally have put me off wanting to read this book but I have learned my lesson - having recently read the sublime The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes. So I dove into this book with an open mind as to what lay ahead in the story of Ivo and his life.

We know from the start that Ivo is in a hospice but we don't find out the exact reason for this until later on in the book. This didn't matter to me as I became so absorbed as Ivo recounted and reminisced about the not so perfect life he had led that had brought him to this place and time.There aren't that many characters in this book which is a good thing as you can focus your entire attention on the story the author is trying to tell. But the characters we do read about are so well crafted and full of depth and their emotions and feelings are portrayed in an extremely favourable manner. The nurse caring for Ivo -Sheila- was a superb character, I felt she offered light relief in her upbeat, wonderful straight talking manner. She suggests a game to Ivo to help him while away the hours as he lies in bed contemplating all the mistakes he has made and how he could have done things differently. So begins the A-Z game of the title where Ivo must assign a body part to each letter of the alphabet. Connected to these letters are stories from Ivo's past which allow us to delve deeper and explore the hidden Ivo that he has kept blocked from people and his closest friends.

The story moves absolutely seamlessly between the present and the past and no point does the reader become confused. In fact this method only enhances the story and helps us get to know Ivo that little bit more. The more we read of the stories Ivo is telling us we learn why a crocheted blanket holds such importance to him and who was his lost love and where has she gone? I wouldn't say Ivo was one of the most likeable characters I had ever read about. He didn't come across as nasty or mean but yet I never warmed to him despite all he was going through. I didn't hate him but there was something I can't quite put my finger on that stopped me from fully embracing him. Yes I understand we are supposed to feel at least some sympathy for him and his situation. But through his stories we see he is not perfect but has numerous flaws. I wanted to know why he wouldn't let people visit him? Why in your last days and weeks would you not at least reconcile with your sister? I was keen to discover why Ivo had alienated himself so much from his friends and family. Ivo is not overly sentimental he says it like it is and admits that he was far from perfect in his life. He acknowledges that he is going to die through no fault of his own but he is no hurry to rectify the problems he has encountered or created.

Ivo seemed to have something eating away at him apart from his illness and I was frustrated at times that we were drip fed information. Yes it added to the overall story but I guess I am just too impatient.The author writes in such a way that you keep turning the pages to uncover Ivo's secrets which ultimately led us to the end of a fantastically written story. This book and its topic of death could have been all maudlin and doom and gloom but James Hannah writes in such way that it doesn't end up leaving you sad and depressed but instead full of hope and optimism. There is a love story here but so much more for the reader to discover. Yes, the reader experiences a range and depth of emotions that certainly your average chick lit book certainly doesn't provide you with but it did me no harm to read outside the box for once.

This is a striking debut from James Hannah and is perfect for a bookclub as is evident from Curtis Brown selecting it as their second choice. It is a clever, thought provoking book which offers a story that allows you to peel back the layers bit by bit to uncover a character that will stay with you long after you close the last page.The A-Z OF You and Me won't be too everyone's taste but I suggest if you want something a little bit different from the norm you couldn't go wrong in spending several hours lost in the story of Ivo. Roll on book three in the book group I'm eager to see what Curtis Brown have in store for us next.

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