The End of the Alphabet by Cs RichardsonThe End of the Alphabet by Cs Richardson

The End of the Alphabet

byCs Richardson

Paperback | January 8, 2008

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about

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.
As an award-winning book designer and now author, CS Richardson has worked in publishing for over twenty years. He is a multiple recipient of the Alcuin Award (Canada's highest honour for excellence in book design) and his work has been exhibited at both the Frankfurt and Leipzig Book Fairs. The End of the Alphabet, his first novel, ha...
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Title:The End of the AlphabetFormat:PaperbackDimensions:160 pages, 7.24 × 4.94 × 0.56 inPublished:January 8, 2008Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385663412

ISBN - 13:9780385663410

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Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from A little bit of disappointment Ambrose Zephyr had found out that he only has one more month to live. He did not waste time and went on his quest to visit places A to Z with his wife Zipper. In his final adventure of going places, he would find out that he had reached his ultimate destination all along. A beautiful book with a touching story - but somehow I feel that it could be a bit better and something more. Predictable plot. A little bit of a disappointment.
Date published: 2017-07-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Skip this one This small little book is about Ambrose Zephyr and his wife Zappora Ashkenazi. When Ambrose finds out he only had 30 days to live, the two take off to try and see the alphabet. They don't make it too far and decide to come back home, as they reminisce on their lives. I bought this book because I judged the book by the cover. The art design of the front and back pages is beautifully done and it's easy to understand why the author has won awards for book design in the past. Unfortunately the story isn't as nice as the book. Overall, the memories of this couple are so clipped and abbreviated that you can't get in to them before the author is off to something else. Because of this, I felt that I couldn't connect with the characters and therefore didn't care much about Ambrose's life coming to an end or Zappora having to give up her husband so early.
Date published: 2017-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fly paper and bubble gum... The End of the Alphabet, by CS Richardson, is a poignant and haunting little tale of love, acceptance, and the unfinished business of life. I picked this novel up about a month ago and set it on one of the heaps of books that lean randomly at the foot of my bookshelves. I snatched it up yesterday morning on the way to work and fell into its charming embrace on the bus downtown. Fortunately, yesterday was a quiet day at work and I read the book straight through. I found the novel to be a charming tale that brilliantly captured the elusive prosaic poetry of day to day love. I was absolutely enthralled by the tale of one Ambrose Zephyr - a man in his fiftieth year who is told by his doctor that he has about thirty days to live. He resolves that very night to to spend those last thirty days on a world tour that he has been randomly planning in the back of his mind for most of his life starting with "A is for a portrait in Amsterdam" "B is for Berlin", and so on. The novel is written on fly paper and bubblegum and will stick to your fingers until you finish reading it. The novel is a soft surprising little fable that in the end reminds one that true love is generally a long conversation wrapped in regret and memory and echoed habit rather than a soaring operatic ode. I recommend this unforgettable little novel as a journey that will keep you guessing at every page. Yours in storytelling, Steve Vernon
Date published: 2009-01-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from It was OK A gentle story about a man given one month to live who creates a list of places in alphabetical order that he wants to visit before his death. His wife does have a hard time with all of his wants and needs. It was not as I expected.
Date published: 2008-06-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I Don't Think I Got It... I didn't like this book as much as others did. I found it boring and slightly annoying. I didn't like the characters, they didn't seem real at all. I didn't like the story, maybe I just didn't get the deeper message? But I won't be visiting these characters again.
Date published: 2008-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Beautiful Read... From simple beginning, to heartbreaking conclusion, "The End of the Alphabet" is a touching novel of love and loss. Richardson's simple yet heartfelt words bring the characters to life, and his gentle humor brings one to tears in the end. Whether those tears are for the comedy or the tragedy of the story - well, that is a question only the reader can answer.
Date published: 2008-05-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Bittersweet love story A soft and gentle story about a man given one month to live who creates an A-Z checklist of those places he wishes to visit before he passes on. He and his wife begin the list while still shellshocked by the sudden news, and their ultimate destination is not quite what they expected. Deftly told with a sparse style of prose that nevertheless evokes the responses of the reader, this was a lovely little book to stumble upon.
Date published: 2008-03-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Absolutely Lovely... The impression this story leaves will extend beyond the brevity of the novel…For someone who enjoys simple language put elegantly together, this is a lovely story to read – perhaps more than once.
Date published: 2008-01-21

Read from the Book

This story is unlikely.Were it otherwise, or at the least more wished for, it would have begun on a Sunday morning. Early, as that was his best time of the day, and in April, that odd time between a thin winter and a plump spring.He would have closed the door of his house and stood on his front step, eyeing the predawn sky. He would have given the neighbourhood stray a shove from its perch on his window ledge. The scruffy cat would have hissed and bolted across the narrow road to the park across the way. He would have hissed back, proud he had at last defeated the mangy beast, and set off. As he had every Sunday morning as far back as he could remember.As he walked up the road, the woman from number eighteen would be retrieving the morning paper from her doorstep. The cool morning would have meant she had remembered to throw on a dressing gown. They would have traded pleasant, awkward good-mornings. He knew her to be the mother of two energetic children whose names he could never recall. She knew he worked in some sort of creative field. After a moment or two of searching for common ground, he would have asked after her children’s artwork. He and his wife had no children of their own.Farther on, he would have seen the elderly man and his tiny dog that lived at number twelve, about to begin their morning walk around the park. The pair would be waiting to say hello. The man would have tipped his cap and launched directly into an eccentric opinion about something. The tiny dog would have begun yapping at the neighbourhood stray.He would have worried about disagreeing with the old fellow and causing offence, or starting a discussion on a topic he knew nothing about, or the soundness of his own opinion. He would have forced an agreeing laugh, wished his neighbour a good day and eyed the dog with suspicion.He would have made his way to Kensington High Street and grumbled about the winter that had passed. He would have wished he had taken his wife to Italy. But that would have been expensive or difficult or meant a bad time at the office. He would have sighed to himself, then smiled as the London sky inched from black to grey to yellow to blue.He would have turned in at Kensington Gardens, up past the palace and on to Broad Walk. Here he would have been happiest. He would have paused near the Round Pond, looked towards the east and the swans, and squinted in his way to watch a girl of perhaps nine or ten, her hair dark and fine and in need of a trim or a ribbon, reading a book beyond her years. He would have closed his eyes in the warmth of a sun just clearing the budding treetops.He would have checked his watch, counted his minutes and the day’s schedule in his head, and turned for home. He would have retraced his route down the Walk, past the palace, along the High Street, into his road, past number twelve and number eighteen and the cat now back on the window ledge, and through his front door.His wife would have begun to stir in her sleep. Five minutes more, she would have mumbled, just loud enough for him to hear as he made her tea. As usual, a tepid cup with too much milk.Ambrose Zephyr would have been content that it was Sunday and that spring had come again to that part of London and that there was no need to go to the office. He would have read a draft of his wife’s latest magazine column and (as gentle readers are obliged) made one or two enthusiastic comments.He would have wondered about the days ahead of him and, as was his habit, dreamed of doing something else. And there it would have ended.But that is not this story.––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.––Ambrose Zephyr lived with his wife – content, quiet, with few extravagances – in a narrow Victorian terrace full of books.He owned two bespoke suits, one of which he had been married in. The other – a three-piece linen number with lapelled waistcoat – he wore whenever and wherever he travelled: on business, on the underground, on his Sunday walk. A pocket square, discreetly puffed, always in place. He collected French-cuffed shirts as others might collect souvenir spoons or back issues of National Geographic. He rarely wore ties but liked them as challenges in graphic design. His footwear was predominantly Italian, loaferish and bought in the sales on Oxford Street. His watches – of which there were many – were a range of silly colours and eccentric shapes.When cornered, he claimed to read Joyce, Ford and Conrad. Rereads of Fleming and Wodehouse were a more accurate library. His opinion of Miss Elizabeth Bennett was not favourable (though he liked Mr B and held a wary respect for Darcy). Wuthering Heights, according to Ambrose, was the dullest book ever written.He had not read a newspaper in some time.Everything Ambrose Zephyr knew about cuisine he learned from his wife. He was allowed in the kitchen, but under no circumstance was he to touch anything. He was a courageous eater, save Brussels sprouts and clams. His knowledge of wine was vague and best defined as Napa good, Australian better, French better still. Kir royale was his drink of occasion. For an Englishman, he made a poor cup of tea.He believed women to be quantifiably wiser than men. He was neither a breast nor a leg nor an ass man; hair could be any length, any colour. Ambrose preferred the complete puzzle to a bit here, a piece there.He stood when someone entered the room. He walked to the street side. Opened his wife’s door first. He could be trusted.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. The book opens with an epigraph by Elizabeth Bishop, excerpted from her poem “Questions of Travel”: “Think of the long trip home/ Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?/ Where should we be today?” What do you think of this choice for an epigraph? Why is it significant? Look up the original poem if you wish. Is CS Richardson influenced by other aspects of this poem?2. CS Richardson has called this book “a fable, a parable on the notions of love and loss and relationships, and how far you would go in the name of love.” How does the tone of fable impact the way you receive the ideas contained in this book? Why do you think Richardson chose to tell this particular story with nuances of the fabulous?3. The physical descriptions of Ambrose and Zipper are parallel in structure, with paragraphs devoted to their tastes in clothing, in music and literature, in food, and brief descriptions of their appearances and personalities. Why do you think Richardson chose to describe them in this way? Do you see other symmetries in the structure of this novel? What do they contribute to the experience of reading this book?4. As “average” as everyone considers Ambrose to be, he has some exceptional qualities, including his ability to visualize history as though seeing through time. What does this instinct say about him, about his being and his desires? What does the revelation of his long-hidden list mean to Zipper?5. Ambrose loves to walk, to experience his life through walking, referring to his favourite Paris route as his flânez and wearing a self-circumscribed path through his London neighbourhood. Does this give you any insight into Ambrose? Have you ever had a favourite flânez?6. “Ambrose Zephyr liked what he liked and didn’t like what he didn’t like.” Consider the ongoing debate Ambrose and Zipper have about the Rockeby Venus. What do you think of their perspectives on art? Have you ever liked anything without wishing to dissect your reasons? What does their debate say about their perspectives on life, and about their relationship?7. What lessons does Ambrose carry with him from the life, and death, of his father?8. Ambrose is dying from an illness that is cloaked in mystery in every aspect save its fatality. Why do you think Richardson chose to leave the illness unnamed and vague?9. A camel utters with equanimity some advice in Ambrose’s dream: “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.” Discuss Ambrose’s dream. What does it reveal about the state of his mind and heart?10. In chapter “Z,” why did Ambrose leave the list in Zipper’s book? Why that book? What is the gift of his message?11. At the novel’s close, Zipper opens her notebook and writes, “This story is unlikely,” repeating the phrase that opens the novel. Why do you think Richardson chose to loop the book’s narrative in this way? Did it change your perspective on the preceding pages?12. If Ambrose had not received this death sentence, how do you think his life with Zipper would have progressed? Where would they have been in 10 years?13. What was your favourite passage in the novel? Who was your favourite character?14. If you were told you had 30 days left to live, what would you do?15. If you were to make a pilgrimage through the alphabet, where would you go? Try working your way through the alphabet naming places you’d like to visit someday.

Editorial 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.