The A-Z of You and Me, by James Hannah, is a love story, a tragedy and a history of a life. The tale is told by the forty-two year old protagonist, Ivo, who has recently become a resident in a hospice. A kindly nurse suggests that he keep his mind occupied by playing her game which involves taking each letter of the alphabet in turn, thinking of a body part for that letter and remembering a story from his past associated with it. The reader is thereby introduced piecemeal to his recollections from boyhood, family life, school days, friendships and Ivo’s attempts at making his way into the adulthood to which he aspires.
Burdened by toxic friends Ivo makes many bad choices. He recalls a beloved who offered him the chance to break away from his acts of self destruction. As he compiles his A-Z the reader slowly comes to understand how close he came to happiness and how he blew it all away. Whilst being frustrated by his foolishness it is hard not to feel sympathy for the high price he paid for his mistakes.
The writing is assured and believable. The presentation allows Ivo’s story to be told gradually but the pacing is never slow. As the chunks of his life story are woven together there is no attempted justification. There is love and regret but also humour. Despite the imminence of death there is nothing mawkish about this tale.
Throughout the book the readers emotions are challenged. It is raw, real and does not shy away from the messiness that accompanies a life lived, a modern death dragged out by medical intervention. Ivo could have been so much more. Despite his many mistakes I cared.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Doubleday.