The End of the Alphabet – C.S. Richardson (2007)
C.S. Richardson’s The End of the Alphabet is a deeply emotional love story involving two gorgeously-wrought characters, Ambrose Zephyr and his wife ZipperAshkenazi. At the same time Richardson carefully and consciously depicts the sheer normalcy of Ambrose and Zipper’s lives, he craftily unpeels layer after layer of extraordinary surprises, revealing the couple’s love – and the couple themselves – as nothing short of beautiful and unique.
Ambrose Zephyr is Mr. Ordinary, or so it seems, a man possessed of routine behaviour from his attire to his walking routes. He’s content, his career is stable, he respects and loves his wife and his home country of England. Half a century into his life, however, his doctor gives him a death sentence. He has an incurable illness and will not live beyond one month. The diagnosis leaves him a little understandably unhinged, and he quickly devises a plan to spend the rest of his remaining time with Zipper, touring the world.
I have mentioned that Ambrose is a man of routine, but I should clarify: he’s also a man of certain obsessions, and the alphabet is one of them. All of the places he and Zipper travel to are named after the letters in the alphabet, A through…well, Z, except that he calls the whole adventure off on about the letter “I.” Zipper accompanies her husband in his frenzied journey, running through the gamut of emotion as she wonders what her life will be like without him: she grieves and laughs and rages, trying to capture the last few hours of their time together, imagining the emptiness. (Richardson sets this all up brilliantly, and I followed with a giant box of Kleenex). Along the way, Ambrose reflects on the art and culture of the cities they visit, comparing them to his homeland, and he remarks on the passing of time and how it all relates to his seemingly insignificant wasting body. It’s all really breathtakingly well-done, clever and sumptuously presented. Several stunningly-rendered scenes will stay with me forever: Zipper’s numbing fear for herself and her husband as she sits in the bath in Paris comes to mind, as does the heart-breaking dance of the Old Jewry tailor Mr. Umtata and Ambrose, his regular customer. It’s an amazing tale – and I defy anyone to read it without feeling the uncontrollable urge to give your significant other(s) a hug.