The A to Z of You and Me, by James Hannah

The A to Z of You and Me, by James Hannah

Take Trainspotting, cut out the swearing, and add a filter of nuanced meditations on love: welcome to The A to Z of You and Me.

Ivo is out of place in the hospice, because of both his age (forty) and his condition (kidneys, not cancer). To begin with, he doesn’t even seem that ill, even to himself:

I’m not ill enough for this. I don’t feel like I should be waited on by all these people, using up their time when they should be tending to properly dying patients.

Sheila, the sort of nurse you’d whatever your problem, is worried about him going bananas, lying in there with nothing to do but think about what’s coming next. She has a game she likes to suggest to her patients, aimed at taking their minds off more immediate matters. It involves working through the alphabet, choosing a body part for each letter, and thinking of a related story. When he finally starts to play it, Ivo is taken on a journey that is revealing, devastating and life-affirming by turns.

Starting a book in a hospice room is a bold move, as there’s really only one way the narrative can go (barring a miracle cure, which would make for a paradoxically disappointing read). Hannah pulls it off, though, treading a finely balanced line which avoids both sentimentality and despair. Part of the success is down to the structure. Each chapter is related to one letter, and Ivo’s journey from A to Z takes in his earliest memories, his adolescent friendships, and the uneven relationship he has with his sister, Laura.

Oh, there it is. It’s my sister Laura, isn’t it, taking the mick out of me, just to look good in front of her new friend Becca.

The progression is not chronological, dropping in and out of time periods without warning, so that the reader is drawn into Ivo’s drifting mindmap. I don’t want to suggest that the narrative drifts, though. Every beat is pitch perfect, as we are given glimpses of events, only to have them fade out again. What happened between Ivo and the Mia, the love of his life? And what part was played by Mal, the edgy city boy whose move into Ivo’s world had such an effect on all their lives? We’re kept hanging until the very end, but it’s an ending that moves and satisfies, without compromising on the raw basis of the tale.

In case I haven’t been clear enough above, I absolutely loved this book. Hannah has been a prominent face on many of this year’s ‘Authors to Watch’ lists, and they are right on target. Go and read.


The A to Z of You and Me will be published by Doubleday on 12th March.

James Hannah’s website is here

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