Monday 16 February 2015


Book review: The A - Z of You and Me by James Hannah

My edition: Paperback (proof), to be published on 12 March 2015 by Doubleday, 268 pages.

Description: Ivo was once a young man living a carefree life. Now he is middle-aged with a failing body and a head full of regrets, resident in St Leonard’s Hospice.

Ivo's dedicated nurse Sheila suggests a game, the ‘A to Z’, to occupy and encourage him. Eager for distraction, Ivo begins listing his body parts alphabetically, associating a memory with each.

The results are a kaleidoscopic chain of recollections, which together unravel the story of Ivo's life; of the girl who tried to help him, and the friend who wouldn’t let her.


I seem to have a knack for picking up sad stories as of late. After Alice and the Fly by James Rice and The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence, I read a novel that didn't deal with a mental illness but with a physical one, and a terminal one at that. I also have The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin on the to-read pile next to my bed but I think I need to take a temporary break from emotionally draining novels before I am ready to pick one up again.

Ivo is only in his 40s yet he is in a hospice because he is dying. It isn't obvious at first what he is suffering from, but from the moment the reader meets Ivo it is evident that he is immensely sad. Of course, being terminally ill is enough reason to feel depressed but Ivo also seems lonely with nothing left to fight for in the remainder of his life. Until his nurse suggest the 'A to Z' game to keep him distracted; for each letter of the alphabet he should think of a body part and a memory that goes with it.

From the moment Ivo starts the game inside his head, we tumble into the past and through a series of flashbacks we get to know who Ivo was before he was dying: a man who fell head over heels into an unexpected but beautiful love story before a devastating faith turned him resentful towards those around him. While there was no happy ending for this romance, reliving his past Ivo has the chance to reflect upon his choices and he comes to the realisation that he has to decide whether he can make amends with the other people who were once so significant in his life – before it is too late. 

The A - Z of You and Me tells a harrowing story with an inevitable heartbreaking finish, yet there are also surprisingly beautiful moments hidden within its pages. Told from an ingenious perspective, flitting back and forth through Ivo's life, there is never enough time for the reader to get completely sucked into the hopeless state of the present and instead there is a joy when Ivo first meets the love of his life, and the many wonderful things they have a chance to share in their short time together.

Of course there are plenty of poignant moments too, there was a particular moving storyline involving a regular visitor to the hospice that managed to make me choke up towards the end, but alternating with the A - Z game I never felt that this ultimately hugely disheartening story was a heart-wrenching tearjerker all the way through.

It takes a special skill to make such a gloomy tale, especially one with a selfish and unlikeable protagonist as the bitter Ivo, a beautiful and memorable reading experience and author James Hannah certainly has this. He has transformed what is ultimately an incredibly distressing story into a thoughtful and worthwhile novel; one that will make the reader think and leave a lasting impression.

You can pre-order the novel from Waterstones, or your own preferred retailer.

Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with him online at:


Twitter: @jameshannah

Many thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

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