Monday, April 28, 2008

A Brilliant Conclusion

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 3, Number 2

by CS Richardson

Right after I finished this book last week, I sat down to write a review. The problem was, with the few chapters of this slim volume still achingly, agonisingly clear in my memory, I couldn't come up with anything that even distantly approached rational, clear-headed or emotionally stable. Everything I wrote sounded like Sylvia Plath on the day she forgot to take her Paxil.

A week has gone by. I think I've regained my equilibrium somewhat, and I'm ready to give it another go.

The End of the Alphabet is a little book, the author's first. There are only two characters, Ambrose Zephyr and his wife Zappora Ashkenazi. (And, really, what more can you possibly want out of a character's name?) Ambrose, receiving word from his doctor that he has an imminently terminal illness, sets out with his wife to fulfil his lifelong dream of travelling the world using the alphabet as his itinerary. They begin in Amsterdam, and progress through as many letters as they are able - one location per day in an almost-frenzied need to check off this last of his life's ambitions.

He collected French-cuffed shirts as others might collect souvenir spoons or back issues of National Geographic. He rarely wore ties but liked them as challenges in graphic design. His footwear was predominantly Italian, loaferish and bought in the sales on Oxford Street.

The only critical analysis I feel able to give is on the author's choice to omit quotation marks. I read Cry, the Beloved Country years ago and hated it - utterly deplored the directionless, unattributed dialogue that seemed, to me, pretentious and experimental. Maybe it's because age has brought me insight (unlikely), but in The End of the Alphabet I loved this device. It's perfectly, beautifully suited to a novel about the difference between what we say and what we don't - how what is in our hearts sounds so different on our lips. You're never sure, reading the dialogue, what words are spoken and what words are cried, silently.

Her eyes were creased at the corners. She wore glasses when reading. The glasses were purchased in a small shop in Paris, around the corner from an antiquarian bookshop.

It doesn't take long to read, but you don't soon forget this framed, sunlit snapshot of the last weeks of a life. Delicate, prolonged moments in their clarity and sorrow are interspersed with tiny, urgent grains of panic.

You can't help but ask yourself, what have I left undone? And why?

The End of the Alphabet gets:
Reread? Definitely
Given to Others? Yes
Bookplate? Yes



kate said...

I'm guessing that this is one of those books that will have me sobbing by the end.

Stace' said...

I'm waiting for a book that ends right.

Shan said...

Stace, the ending of this book is EXACTLY right.

But if by "right" you mean "happily", I'm afraid you might be a leeetle bit disappointed.
; )

I'll find you a happy one, okay? Even if it IS outside my comfort zone. Just give me time.

Dave Hingsburger said...

A book review that makes a Plath joke ... how delicious is that? I went through a Plath phase (Daddy, Daddy, you bastard I'm through) ... if this book is half as good as the review it'll be amazing. I'm in the middle of a russian murder mystery, I'll put this one on the list.

lizbon said...

Sounds lovely.

Shan said...

Plath - shudder: it's the 'cake of soap, a gold filling' that gets me...once my Grade 12 English teacher explained what the soap thing was about I was all too unable to forget that line.

We are THAT Family said...

That sounds like an awesome book!

Gwen said...

"Shudder" is the right word for Sylvia Plath - brilliant, but too much soap and fillings going on for my taste. I'll take A.A. Milne any day of the week.