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CS Richardson's Amazing Little Gem: The End of the Alphabet

abstract:The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson (Doubleday, 2007) is a one-hundred-and-nineteen-page gem coming out in paperback that you can read in one sitting. Be prepared to be taken on a roller coaster of emotion. It is the story of a couple, one of whom has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and told will not live past one month. It is a story of love, of courage, and of loss. It is a story you will read and pass on to friends, because we all admire this kind of love; we all fear this kind of devastation and find ourselves compelled to look into their abyss. The End of the Alphabet has just been awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize for First Novel. Congratulations Charles!!


November 29, 2007

About The Author

CS Richardson is an accomplished book designer who has worked in publishing for over twenty years. He is a multiple recipient of the Alcuin Award (Canada’s highest honor for excellence in book design) and a frequent lecturer on various facets of publishing, design, and communications. His design work has been exhibited at both the Frankfurt and Leipzig Book Fairs. He is currently at work on his second novel, Cooke Agency. [The rights to this book have been sold in French- and English-speaking Canada, the USA, and to Catalan, Dutch, and German markets. It was a hit at the Frankfurt book festival.]

Confession of a Book Reviewer

I am lying in bed, longer than usual, finishing a copy of CS Richardson’s novel, The End of the Alphabet (Doubleday) sent to me for review. I am sniffling and coughing and choking at the same time. Damn you, CS Richardson. Damn this concise treatise on life, love, and loss.

My husband walks into the bedroom and glances at me sitting in bed half scrunched down, says nothing of the tears welled up in my eyes after his second glance down to the slim, perfect volume in my hand with the brown paper dust jacket of illustrated dromedaries and a two-bunch palm gracing the central manila band.

I throw off the duvet and go into the shower, immerse myself in a pelt of water and turn up the temperature to a near scorch, using the utilitarian sound to mask the sobs that come in un-self-conscious torrents behind the curtain, behind the door, disguised under the whirring fan that thankfully drowns out the evidence that I am completely unhinged with grief over The End of the Alphabet.

Damn you, CS Richardson. How did you write such a perfect book? How can I have become so entranced by the lives of two apparently fictional London characters whose childless marriage and cut-short romance has captured my heart and left an ache so strong it rekindles the physical pain at the center of my chest last felt when my mother died years ago, and rare times since?

I turn off the shower and drag myself toward the rituals of the day with the wooden fibers that have replaced my living tissue and sinews. Sniffling has lodged something into a tickling position far up my nasal passageway and I blow long and hard into a balled-up mass of toilet paper to rid myself of the reflex tingling and itchiness ushering more tears from my all-too-wide-open lachrymal ducts.

Rubbing the towel in excoriating exfoliation movements, I bury my face one last time into the cotton lump to muster the resolve to write this review and get on with the day. Switching from grief to analytics, I begin to puzzle how CS Richardson captures the essence of love and the inevitability of loss that puts the reader into this helpless state.

The book opens with “On or about his fiftieth birthday, Ambrose Zephyr failed his annual medical exam. An illness of inexplicable origin with neither known nor foreseeable cure was discovered. It would kill him within the month. Give or take a day. It was suggested he might want to make arrangements concerning his remaining time.“

BANG. There it is, the lead balloon. Is it my curiosity for the character, Ambrose Zephyr, the quintessential British schoolboy grown into a sentient man working in advertising with a larger sense of awareness and inexplicable vision, whose aesthetic calm life is about to be cut short by his one-month death sentence?

Or is it the anticipation of a tragic break in the perfect marriage bond with his intelligent and exotic wife, “Zipper” Ashkenazi, that I lament? (The first and last letter of their names inversely reciprocate, like alphabetic bookends to a perfectly type-set romance.)

He sets it up thus: “Depending on the storyteller, Ambrose and Zipper met for the first or second time in the offices of Dravot, Carnehan. The third-most-read fashion magazine in the country was at the time a fledgling and unread concept. It was being pitched to the city’s advertising community in an effort to change that.” (Pg 16)

Or is the readers' ominous understanding that the impromptu escape to familiar and exotic places to wring the last weeks alive on an alphabetized journey: to the cathedral in Paris, the baths in Turkey, the pyramids in Egypt, that will never be completed in the short time left to them? Is it the changes to their lovemaking that draw me in? I go through the phases from numb denial, to wrenching grief, to quiet acceptance, and read on in reluctant anticipation for the words in the line that will herald the final moment -- to that letter I am his prisoner.

Damn you, CS Richardson, and this exquisitely designed, printed, and bound slim volume of perfection. I want at once to share it with the world and keep it hidden in my heart. I dress for the day, go out to the kitchen and give my husband a long, silent, unexplained hug. “What do you think of Velázquez’s ‘Venus?’”I ask?



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