three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-The End of the AlphabetShortly after his 50th birthday, Ambrose Zephyr, a London advertising executive with a passion for the alphabet, receives some bad news: he has been diagnosed with a fatal heart condition and has only one month to live. Advised to put his affairs in order, he instead plans a whirlwind tour of the globe in alphabetical order: A is for Amsterdam, B is for Berlin, C is for Chartres (and Z is for Zanzibar). Dazed, his devoted wife, Zappora "Zipper" Ashkenazi, agrees to accompany him. As they travel, they relive their courtship, wedding, honeymoon, and all the small details of a quiet, happy marriage. In Istanbul, however, their journey takes an unexpected turn.
Doubleday. 119 pages. $16.95. ISBN: 038552255X

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"A sad and sweet debut novella. … [The letters] turn the 120 pages of this slight book into a tear-stained goodbye note and a heartfelt love letter." Veronique de Turenne

Toronto Globe and Mail 4 of 5 Stars
"The End of the Alphabet is more fable than fiction, more elongated short story than conventional first novel. … Richardson not only has an interesting story to tell, but writes with such visual and emotional density that the end of one reading readily becomes the start of another." T. F. Rigelhof

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"The End of the Alphabet is a lovely little novel that packs a big emotional wallop. … . The writing borders on precious, but it comes back to earth at all the right places, as witty and pointed as the best of Noel Coward’s plays." Bob Minzesheimer

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Despite the book’s title and some of its chapter headings—‘D’ for Deauville, ‘F’ for Florence, and so on—this elegant, spare and beautifully written tale of Ambrose Zephyr’s last journey is too delicate, witty and passionate to be ruled by alphabetical order or contained within any planned itinerary. … The surprise of this little book is not that it is poignant but that it is delightful: graceful, stylish, humorous, intelligent and lacking even the faintest whiff of sanctimony." Reeve Lindbergh

Vancouver Sun 3 of 5 Stars
"It’s in the interplay between husband and wife that Richardson is strongest. … But midway through, Richardson’s clever construct seems to run out of steam." Katharine Hamer

Toronto Star 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Like the ‘small type blocks’ that young Ambrose enjoys feeling in his hand, the novel is an inanimate artifact. Expect no transports of emotion reading it." Philip Marchand

Entertainment Weekly 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s virtually impossible to muster any sympathy for, or interest in, the fates of sketchy archetypes. This slight novella reads like a bizarre collaboration between Mitch Albom and the McSweeney’s crowd." Thom Geier

Critical Summary

A Canadian book designer, C. S. Richardson delights in the alphabet, and his infatuation with everything A-to-Z shines throughout this elegant debut novel. In clear, understated prose, Richardson has written a poignant love story, a travelogue, a tribute to the good life, and a rousing call to cherish every moment. By turns humorous, heartbreaking, and inspiring, The End of the Alphabet reminded critics more of a fairy tale than a straightforward narrative, but that did not detract from the power of the story. Though a few critics found the writing pretentious, the characterizations flat, and Ambrose unsympathetic, most readers will enjoy this clever, heartfelt book.