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

a to zA striking literary debut of love and mortality perfect for fans of quirky, heart-wrenching fiction like Nathan Filer, David Nicholls and Rachel Joyce.

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 ..

Received as an uncorrected proof from Doubleday in exchange for a review.

We find 40 year old Ivo in a hospice, dying of something only alluded to (diabetes? his kidneys?). As he stares at the ceiling, with little energy or will to do anything including having visitors, Shelia (his carer) challenges him to a game: take each letter of the alphabet, and name a body part starting with that letter, and tell a story.

As the book continues, we get snippets of Ivo’s previous life, ranging from the relationships he has with his parents, with his sister Laura, his friends Becca, Kelvin, Mal and ultimately Mia, his girlfriend. We also have a window on his current life, including Amber – the daughter of the woman in the room next door – who is in university and trying to deal with a mother who is dying and a father who seems disconnected from the situation. In turn this allows Ivo to move forward in coming to terms with his own dying.

Ivo was diagnosed as a diabetic quite young, requiring him to do regular injections, but as he comes into his twenties, he is skipping injections on an almost daily basis, skipping out late at night with Mal, Becca and Laura and ingesting various forms of drugs, most notably Heroin and alcohol, usually supplied by Mal.

There is chopping and changing about time periods within each chapter, with some pieces only lasting short paragraphs, some whole chapters. It’s a pleasing way to recognise that some memories can be simple impressions of a moment, some that are whole days or weeks. There’s been a rift between him and Laura approximately 8 years before the now, which has resulted in people taking sides, and Ivo unwilling to accept visitors or work on recovering his relationship with Mal, who seems to have gone missing after leaving prison.

As things progress we find out why Ivo has cut himself off from his friends and family; what hold the crocheted blanket means to him after so many years; and ultimately why he fears Mal more than he misses him.

This is one of those books that is apparently simple in it’s structure, but delivers so much more and gives a sucker punch at the end. Things aren’t always explicit especially in the final act when Ivo is full of morphine, but you get the indication that this is the only person Ivo ultimately trusts to do this one thing for him, no matter what the cost might be or what has gone before.   Certainly a book to have the hankies out for when you finish!

Other reviews of this book

Page To Stage Reviews

Nut Press

Books Biscuits and Tea

About the author

James Hannah divides his time between London and Shropshire, UK. He has a Master’s degree in Beckett Studies from the Beckett International Foundation at Reading University.  The A to Z of You and Me is his first novel and published by Doubleday in 2015


5 thoughts on “Book Review: The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

    • it’s something I keep meaning to do, and I’ve been very remiss (I read a lot of forward list books, so tend to publish reviews then forget people might have read the book too!).

      Thanks for visiting!

      Liked by 1 person

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