Advanced Reader Copy received from the publisher (Doubleday) via NetGalley
Release date (UK): 12th March 2015
I nearly knocked a star off my rating of this novel on Goodreads (to four) because at points it was incredibly depressing. But something in this book resonated with me. I’m going to have a hard time reviewing it because, for me, it was beautiful, it was heart wrenching, it was perfect.
The protagonist is Ivo, a forty-year-old who is living out the last of his days in a hospice. So, I should have known it was going to be a tearjerker from the beginning, but what really got to me was the story of Ivo’s past. His kind nurse Sheila encourages him to play a game to occupy his mind – naming a body part for every letter of the alphabet, and recounting a memory to accompany it. It seems like the A-Z list could be a strange format for a novel, but it doesn’t read like a list. As Ivo begins to work his way through the alphabet, what is revealed is a stunning story filled with memories, regrets and love.
I think what resonated with me with this book is how real it is. None of the characters are perfect – they all have their flaws, not least of all Ivo himself. The story looks at the effects of a typically destructive lifestyle, fuelled by drink and drugs. It’s a pragmatic snapshot of how one person may not realise the full consequences of their actions until it’s too late.
“‘You find suddenly you’ve done all these terrible things for – for no reason, almost. Things that didn’t seem terrible at the time, you know? And not for a long time. But you find that – you know, your whole world’s changed because of them. Lots of people’s worlds. You’ve made your mark, whether you like it or not.’”
While this book is a beautiful life story, it’s also a romance. The crux of the story is the love of Ivo’s life – Mia. Throughout the story, Ivo addresses the reader as ‘you’, referring to Mia, and it’s clear to see from the start how big a part this woman played in the story of his life.
“You’re everywhere. The memories of you, the shape of you. All the parts of my body seem to come together and remember you.”
He spends more and more of his time reminiscing about their time together, and wondering how things could have ended differently as he works his way through the list, revealing the entire relationship, from the innocent first meeting to the tragic ending. And – like with the characters throughout the story – this has to be one of the most realistic and well-drawn relationships I’ve ever read in a novel.
I wouldn’t want to put anyone off this book. It isn’t all sad, there’s a bittersweet humour lurking throughout the book. Just when I thought couldn’t take any more of the pain and regrets, I’d turn the page and Hannah would put a smile on my face with the simple wit of his writing.
When I got a copy of this novel from NetGalley, I had a little look on the author’s website where he claims that he’s been cited as a ‘rising star’, ‘one to watch’ and more, by various publications. I can’t help but agree with them all – I’m amazed that this is a debut. It’s flawless.