The A to Z of You and Me – James Hannah

Ivo is in a hospice. He is a young man, he does not belong in this place you would think. Sadly for Ivo he knows this and as he lies in his bed, thinking over the life he has led so far and what trouble there has been and what love he has had and subsequently lost.

We don’t know why Ivo is in a hospice. We know very little about him and there seems to be no or few visitors. He is isolated. He blames people. He does not want to face the guilt of his past. His only contact is with Sheila the nurse with a sense of humour and wanting to give Ivo and everyone a sense of purpose even if they are coming towards the end of their lives.

Sheila uses the A to Z game. Name a body part and tell a story about it relating to your past. Ivo takes up this challenge somewhat reluctantly but anything to stop his mind becoming too anxious. And as you start to think yourself as parts of a body, we learn about Ivo.

As this recollection continues through the book, we start to get a picture of the man who is lying in this bed. How he came to be there? What went on before him? What effect he had on others around him?

This is ultimately a sad book, but there is something rather refreshing about it. It’s style is different as we go through the alphabet piecing together the story. The structure is strong as the story unravels in front of us. At times I felt like I was intruding on something so precious, so beautiful and desperately sad that I did want to cry. At others I felt I was sharing in the ‘gallows’ humour that made me chuckle, as one memory triggered another.

As Ivo finds peace with the emotions and actions that have affected his life? Will the ultimate action mean he can now return to his one yearning – his only true love?

It has such a gentleness about it, that you want to hold onto its memories, you somehow treat the book and the story with some sort of reverence not afforded to other novels. It is not a book to pick up if you want some light reading but that does not make in a turn a difficult read. You need to be in a gentle place to read this and get the most out of it. A debut novel with a difference, it is going to make people talk.

The A-Z of You and Me is published today in hardback. 

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book for review. 

I am not one for comparing books in genres and topics, etc. However, in the case of this book it reminded me of Rachel Joyce’s recent novel about Queenie Hennessey. I think it was the hospice setting, the coming to the end of your life and it has made me revisit my only experience with that when my grandmother died nearly three years ago. Seeing her in those final days was traumatic and that still remains with me, it has conflicted me. Reading books like these somehow gives me more understanding.