It only takes a few words to change your world.
Ivo lies in bed, refusing to see anyone. He can’t help thinking of the past and all the mistakes he is unable to undo. Once he had family, friends. Once there was a girl. But now there is nothing but endless days, and pain. At least, the days can seem endless when you aren’t going anywhere. For Ivo is no reclusive teenager, holed up in his bedroom listening to The Smiths. Ivo is 40 years old, and he is in a hospice.
As today’s Guardian review says, it is difficult to get the balance right with a review of The A-Z of You and Me. Inevitably, most reviews will mention that Ivo is dying, but to be fair, the reader realises this almost from the beginning. Plus, integral to the plot as his demise is, his journey has almost ended when we encounter him; it is no plot twist. Rather, to give prospective readers spoilers, I would have to say too much about Ivo’s relationships, particularly the ‘You’ to whom he addresses the novel. Suffice it to say, they are as tangled as the crocheted knots in his precious comfort blanket.
Refusing these to address his relationships any longer by denying access to visitors makes Ivo’s days drag somewhat. In order to appease his boredom, his ever cheerful nurse, Sheila, suggests that he plays The A-Z Game of the title: come up with a body part for each letter of the alphabet and tell a story about it. Being a bloke, Ivo tends to go for the more smirk-inducing body parts, and the sections where he tells these stories make for light relief from the novel’s darker moments. All I will add here is that Q was pretty interesting….
What is clever about The A-Z of You and Me is that Hannah doesn’t shy away from making his characters questionable. Ivo is never cast in an idealised, Beth from Little Women light, nor do we judge him too harshly for his past actions. Likewise, the ‘ You’ of the title, his former romantic interest, may be romanticised in Ivo’s memory, but she is certainly not half as popular with his friends. But that’s all you’re getting as I don’t do spoilers….
I really enjoyed The A-Z of You and Me. Hannah is am accomplished novelist, and I look forward to what he does next. Many thanks to Alison Barrow for the review copy.