Book Review: The End of the Alphabet
“When his father asked why A wasn't apple or B wasn't bird or C wasn't cat, young Ambrose explained that things didn't always have to be the way you'd expect. Everybody does apples and birds and cats, he said, and it's boring to do what everybody else does.”
I heard about The End of the Alphabet on a random podcast when a writer mentioned this short novel in the same breath as The Book Thief and All The Light We Cannot See. The writer said the story "sticks with you" which is really all the encouragement I needed to buy a copy.
And, in case you have limited time, this is a lovely little book. I wouldn't put it in the same category as the other titles, but it's a pleasant way to spend a few hours.
The plot line is about a man, Ambrose Zephyr who finds out he's dying.
"Why you? Why anyone? responded the doctor.
I'm afraid not. Nothing to be done.Unlikely, but perhaps.Could be, but doubtful.How long? Thirty days. Give or take.Faculties may dull a bit. Blurred eyesight, ringing ears, numbed fingertips. That sort of thing. Happens rather quickly as far as we can tell.Yes, the doctor offered, unfair would be a very good word about now."
Ambrose Zephyr is married to a woman, Zappora Ashkenazi (see what they did there?) who is both madly in love with her husband and slightly aghast at how he decides to spend the last days of his life.
"Those who knew him described Ambrose Zephyr as a better man than some. Wanting a few minor adjustments, they would admit, but didn't we all. His wife described him as the only man she had loved. Without adjustment."
Ambrose embarks on an extensive trip trying to make his way to places from A to Z in the world. Zappora, or Zipper as she's called by her friends, is a good sport at first. In fact, when I was half way into the book, I found her attitude to be so agreeable she seemed unreal.
But then the cracks began to show, and I found her character to be believable.
"The point is you never say anything. I haven’t a clue what you think about anything important." Sorry. "Stop it. Stop being so damned… absent." Ambrose shrugged. "Don’t you care about anything? I mean really have an opinion. Beyond it’s lovely?"
Fine,said Ambrose. If you must know. I think the Vela’zquez is remarkable because it doesn’t matter to me that she was an actress or that the sheets are black. I think abstract expressionism is crap. I think Brussels sprouts are crap. I think I could paint, but I don’t have the nerve. I think I am an unbelievably lucky man who is married to a woman who I think looks a little like the Rokeby Venus, and I think if I open my mouth to say something I think is important, I think she will discover she’s married a fool.
"You are many things, my love. A fool is not one of them. You’re imagining things."
I am keeping things to myself. Having an opinion doesn’t require sharing it with everybody.
"It requires sharing it with me. Because I get to know what you think. I get to know you better than anyone else."
You do. Always have, always will, full stop. Let it go.
"One more thing."
"Luck has nothing to do with us."
Ultimately, the book is a simple love story about a couple facing loss and finding ways to connect as they prepare to say goodbye. The writing is smart, and there's one twist in particular which I very much enjoyed.
“In the face of all reason she was interested in him as he was. Not as he wished he was.”
The book is out of print, but available as either a used book or as a Kindle download. If you want something short and sweet, it's a good option.