The End of the Alphabet

Ambrose Zephyr and his wife Zappora Ashkenazi (“Zipper”) have achieved a happy and balanced life together. She is the yin to his yang. He is the only man she has loved without adjustment. The two live contentedly in a narrow London terrace full of books.

That contentment is thrown into turmoil on or about Ambrose’s fiftieth birthday, when they receive the news that he has contracted a mysterious illness that will most certainly lead to his death within the month. In panicked delirium, from beneath their bed Ambrose withdraws an oxblood suitcase containing the ephemera of his long-suppressed life’s ambition: to travel the world in a pilgrimage through the alphabet, from Amsterdam to Zanzibar.

Scuttling the responsibilities of their respectably successful careers, the two set off on an urgent voyage through real and imagined geographies of place, of history, of art, and of love.

Zipper is continually frustrated by Ambrose’s reticence, but loves him beyond all measure. And Ambrose well appreciates his miraculous good fortune in having Zipper by his side, drawing out the best in him. Zipper does not completely understand Ambrose’s compulsion to pursue his childhood dream, but her commitment to him is absolute and so she, too, is compelled to make this journey.

In Amsterdam, they revisit past debates on beauty and art. In Berlin, they weigh the burdens of history. In the glow of the Chartres windows, they explore the stations of life. In Deauville, they fondly recall their youthful love. At “E,” Ambrose adjusts his long-drafted itinerary, crossing out Elba and replacing it with the Eiffel Tower of Zipper’s beloved Paris, the city of their first predestined encounter. While resting in Florence beside the youthfully vital David, they meet a chivalrous old man who shares his insight into enduring romance. It is in Giza that Ambrose begins to falter as he climbs a pyramid, and they miss Haifa thanks to a sandstorm. In Istanbul, they realize that Ambrose can go no further and they must return to their London terrace.

But their voyage is not over. The two continue their odyssey, no longer via plane and rail, but now through the power of shared desire and love. The wise words of a hallucinatory camel in Ambrose’s fevered dream ring out to them with equanimity: “Why, you ask? There is no why, Master Zephyr. Life goes on. Death goes on. Love goes on. It is all as simple as that.”

In the tradition of romantic legend and fable, The End of the Alphabet is a lovingly rendered, richly nuanced treatise on the nature of true and enduring love. The story of Ambrose and Zappora is a precious gift, one that illuminates a pathway to the return of balance and joy after unthinkable loss.


From the Hardcover edition.

Reviews

A GLOBE & MAIL BEST BOOK OF 2007

“An alphabet of the language of lovers, a beautiful fable of art and mortality: elegant, wise and humane. I like to think of the happiness this book will bring. I’m sure it will be given as a gift between lovers, and will inspire many journeys – geographical and emotional.”
–Chris Cleave, author of Incendiary

“A sad and sweet debut… . [Richardson’s] love of the 26 building blocks that prop up the entire English language bleeds into the text. Letters have heft and dash and vigor. They lurk as plot points in antique stores and serve up visual trills in alliteration. They turn the 120 pages of this slight book into a tear-stained goodbye note and a heartfelt love letter.”–Los Angeles Times

C.S. Richardson’s first book, The End of the Alphabet, is nothing less than gorgeous, a short and intense novel structured around the beautiful cul de sac of the alphabet itself….The story is irresistible….It may be all his years serving as bespoke tailor for the covers of books but Scott Richardson has accomplished the magic of transformation in The End of the Alphabet. Evocative and unforgettable, it manages to arouse both a longing for travel and a longing for home…..It is beautiful. Both inside and out.”
–Calgary Herald

C.S. Richardson’s The End of the Alphabet delivers a gem of a book…like a bouquet of roses, beauty in this elegant and witty tale is barbed. This is a very difficult book to put down at bedtime, even when the final page is turned….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.”
The Globe & Mail

“If ever there was a grand design for a humane, haunting story like this to make it into print, this may be it… . There is something so immediately humane and honest about this story that plays out over a scant 140 pages, something so old-fashionedly romantic, the book all but throbs with feeling in your hands.” —Edmonton Journal

“The book is less than 140 pages–the word count is probably that of a novella–but it had the weight of a 400-page novel. The ending resonates long after you’ve reached the last letter.” —Torontoist.com

“Richardson enters fictional territory previously marked out by writers no less grand than Tolstoy and Kafka… . Gentle, wistful, almost otherworldly… . Perhaps … the novel itself must not be judged by the canons of literary realism, but by some other standard — that its mood and tone belong more to a fairy tale than a gritty story of some poor devil expiring from some strange disease.” —Toronto Star

“The quality of a fable, exquisite and timeless.”–Chatelaine

“A novel that can be read in a single setting of less than two hours might continue to resonate with readers for weeks, months, even years.”–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


From the Hardcover edition.