Book Review: The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson

The End of the AlphabetThe End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson

My rating: ★★★

Death? Yes, yes, death hovers near us all. And it is sad that it makes us sad. But I know a story.

Such is the life of Ambrose Zephyr. At 50 years of age, Ambrose is diagnosed with a fatal but unidentifiable illness — an illness that, within 30 day’s time, will leave him dead. Yes, the doctor offered, writes Richardson, unfair would be a very good word about now. Zephyr’s soon and imminent death, however, makes up only one element to this story.

Meet Zappora Ashkenazi, more commonly known as Zipper. A literary editor for the third-most read fashion magazine, brilliant cook, reads everything, has impeccable fashion sense, but most of all, Zipper is the loyal and loving wife to Ambrose Zephyr. With the distinct absence of children, the couple dedicate more time fulfilling their careers and living “contentedly” together “in a narrow London terrace full of books.” What happens, then, when a couple create an ideal life together — a union in which needs are met by each other and through their work — once the other is gone? Contentment shatters, and Zipper must cope with the facts. In a month, she will be alone; no husband and no children.

And what will I have when he’s gone?

Nothing. No growing ancient together, no retiring to the pied-à-terre, no children, no grandchildren, come to that. No more. No life. Nothing. Blank.

But you never wanted children, Kitts said.

I never wanted this. I is for I don’t know what to do.

Zippper, feeling a deep sadness, anticipates Ambrose’s loss and examines life choices — likely regretting that she never had a child — while wishing not to let go. If one extends time from days to weeks to decades, it will still come short, as there is little time to live in comparison to how much life could be experienced. As Zipper feels torn between wanting to make the most out  of limited days but wishing those days were not limited, Ambrose faces his own death and what he never accomplished in life. What is a couple to do?

Indeed, said the doctor. Arrangements.

Ambrose Zephyr suggested, for all in the outer office to hear, that the doctor might want to wait one damn minute before suggesting that Ambrose might want to arrange his remaining days. Days that until moments before had been assumed would stretch to years. With luck, to decades. Not shrink to weeks.

As such, husband and wife agree on a rash decision to travel the world, but perhaps not in the way one might think — and certainly not in the way Ambrose initially planned. Ambrose Zephyr and Zappora Ashkenazi: A.Z. & Z.A. From the beginning to the end of the alphabet and back again.

In under 200 pages (depending on the copy; mine meets 119), the couple’s adventures and turmoil could have been wrung out, extended, and glossed in rich detail inside a 300 -500 page novel instead. Yet the swiftness is rather appropriate, and, as I find it, where the appeal rests. Hand a person generations of time, and he will still wish for more. There is difficulty in saying goodbye and accepting what is in order to let go, to release the grip on something that was expected to last or taken for granted.

In fluid, conversational tone, Richardson’s charm sits in the vast scope of story-telling accomplished through brevity. Not overtly sentimental, Richardson manages to pack in enough pow and flair that, through the power of simplicity, captivates intrigue and grasps emotions. Both nimble and discerning, The End of the Alphabet is tale about love and life I recommend anyone journey.

“An alphabet of the language of lovers, a beautiful fable of art and mortality: elegant, wise, and humane. I like to think of the happiness this book will bring. I’m sure it will be given as a gift between lovers, and will inspire many journeys — geographical and emotional.”

— Chris Cleave, author of Incendiary

For those interested, watch C.S. Richardson share his thoughts on The End of the Alphabet below:

A challenge: listen up, library book addicts.

Sara, at Sara Jayne’s Eclectic Reading Blog, has proposed a challenge for fellow library raiders. If, like me, you find yourself at the library every week to pick up a new (and very tall) loot tower on hold, I am willing to bet you have an obsession. You’re a book addict who can’t resist the high of requesting book after book after book. I know this, because I experience the same problem.

My name is Raya, and I love books. I love requesting books and finding books more than I love reading books. It’s a life-sentence affair with the written word.

As a book enthusiast, I read, discover, and suggest dozens upon dozens of stories. Perpetually scanning fellow book bloggers’ blogs for new, interesting novels, I also graze GoodReads shelves and let their recommendations feed my TBR list until the stack threatens to topple. My to-read list is so bloated that it will remain fatally plump long after I am dead. Considering all the books and authors I mark down for later reading, and out of all the books I put on hold, how often do I take time for casual shelf browsing at the library? Hardly ever. I walk through the doors, grab those books, check out, and strut to my exit like no one eyes the nut carrying 15 books.

(One might conclude that small dents form in this TBR overgrowth, seeing as how I visit the library at least once a week. To strip the truth naked of any obscurities: no. The list is as fat as ever and still growing, which is a commonality many bibliophiles and lit-lovers share.)

I catch myself wishing for the few minutes I spend inside the library to stretch. I miss my long visits, sitting comfortably between shelves and examining summaries and pages. Although I still do this, it’s not as often as I would like — nor is it as long as I would like, which is why I agreed to join Sara’s challenge:

  • At your library, find one book that is entirely new to you. It should be a book that you haven’t read reviews on and it is NOT on your TBR list. Take note of the author: have you read his or her writing before? Find a writer and introduce yourself to this person’s work!
  • Read the book (and hope it’s a good one)
  • If you like, review the book on August 24th

It’s one thing to find books online and then pick them up, because you know what you’re getting. Interrogating shelves for a satisfactory read is something else; you sit on uncertain ground. The synopsis might captivate, and the page you skim might read well, but there are no reviews to help you decide. Unless you cheat by asking a librarian, access a library computer, or browse the Internet on your cell, these book are entirely unfamiliar. You can’t feel certain on what to expect, but you can hope to enjoy it. Picking up random books is my favorite way to find wonderful stories I might have otherwise never read — if only I did it more often!

If you like to discover books and drop by your local library, stop by Sara’s post and leave a comment! I made a library trip (again) today, and while the new batch of held items I picked up forced me to return more unread books, I took time shelf-hopping as well…

The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson
Published Jan. 22nd, 2007 | Doubleday Canada

Ambrose Zephyr and his wife Zappora Ashkenazi (“Zipper”) have achieved a happy and balanced life together. She is the yin to his yang. He is the only man she has loved without adjustment. The two live contentedly in a narrow London terrace full of books.

That contentment is thrown into turmoil on or about Ambrose’s fiftieth birthday, when they receive the news that he has contracted a mysterious illness that will most certainly lead to his death within the month. In panicked delirium, from beneath their bed Ambrose withdraws an oxblood suitcase containing the ephemera of his long-suppressed life’s ambition: to travel the world in a pilgrimage through the alphabet, from Amsterdam to Zanzibar. [Read more…]

I hope everyone’s week kicked off with a pleasant Monday. Happy reading!