The End of the Alphabet
by CS Richardson
Published by Doubleday
139 pages, 2007
F is for Filosofia
Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen
Remember The Snow Goose? I Heard the Owl Call my Name? The Little Prince? CS Richardson’s compact novel reminds me of those tiny classics.
Using a very clichéd situation -- a man with only a month left to live -- the author manages to create a fresh story you’ll want to read through to the finish in one sitting. That won’t be a problem; it’s only 139 pages.
Surprisingly, this is the first novel from a man who has been in publishing for over 20 years, not as an author but as a book designer. In fact, Richardson is at the top of his craft, having been awarded many high honours for his designs, which have been exhibited at book fairs in Frankfurt and Leipzig, for starters.
And now we come to Filosofia, which happens to be the name of the typeface used for this novel. Described as elegant and unusual, it also happens to be one of the designer/author’s favorites.
Because Richardson works at the same publishing house that was producing his book, there were some challenges, one of them being who was going to design it. On Kelly Hill’s shoulders -- quaking ones I expect -- fell the task of coming up with the perfect look for her boss’s literary debut. Choosing one of his favorite typesets was probably a good choice.
I imagine he was pleased on other grounds as well. The book looks attractive and the quality of the paper gives just the right amount of weight to the slim volume. It wouldn’t do for the packaging to overwhelm its contents. Mind you, that wouldn’t be so easy to do; The End of the Alphabet is sparse, elegant prose.
Here’s the gist of the plot. At 50, Ambrose Zephyr has every reason to expect more time to enjoy his satisfying life with his beloved wife, Zappora Ashkenazi, affectionately known as Zipper. She is frugal, a good cook, hard-working, loving and attractive. Ambrose also has a satisfying career in London as the creative director at an advertising firm, while Zipper enjoys her career as literary editor for a well-read fashion magazine. Like many child-free couples, they have both been free to follow their dreams and to devote themselves more fully to one another.
But there’s a downside. If two people create a perfect union and an ideal life together that fulfills all their needs, what happens when one is no longer there? If that love hasn’t been diffused into different channels, how lonely will it be when one is left behind? Suddenly, the absence of children and grandchildren might be re-examined and regretted. In business you must diversify to survive; could the same thing be said for personal life?
Zipper wonders. All that love. All those memories. The book is a heartbreaker. It’s no coincidence that Ambrose’s beloved wife’s name is at the end of the alphabet, the final place he winds up when he impulsively decides to journey to places imbued with memories and to places dreamt of, beginning from A to Z. They embark so suddenly that not even their employers know what they are up to. But Ambrose has only a month, and whatever undisclosed disease he has is rapidly and ruthlessly diminishing him.
Apparently Richardson originally titled his work The Grand Tour of Ambrose Zephyr. Random House’s editorial staff did him a big favour by suggesting an alternative title. Suggested in order to broaden its appeal, it actually does far more than that. The end of the alphabet returns him to his wife, Zappora, and to himself. Ambrose Zephyr contains the beginning and the end of the alphabet, the beginning and the end of what we know. Inspired title.
Richardson is apparently hard at work on his second novel, this one about a protagonist who can’t read. This is probably one budding author who can afford to quit his day job. | July 2007
Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including BC Bookworld, Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.