Article published on March 6, 2015.
With his debut novel, The A to Z of You and Me – coming from Doubleday in March – James Hannah will become the ninth graduate from the Curtis Brown Creative Novel-Writing Course to achieve publication, following in the footsteps of Jessie Burton’s hugely successful The Miniaturist, amongst others. Clearly the CBC academy is on a roll, turning out a succession of fully-fledged writers who hitherto, had lacked the nous and confidence to expose their work to the light of day. As one writer explained “I couldn’t spend my life being precious about manuscripts in the attic and not engaging in the world of publishing. This is a business: there are editors, publicity people, lawyers, agents, media rights… I hoped the Curtis Brown Creative course would empower me to come out as a writer who actually wanted readers. And it did.”
James Hannah has a Master’s degree in Beckett Studies from Reading University, and has had short stories published in a variety of journals and in a collection edited by Catherine O’Flynn and published by Tindal Street Press but not until he enrolled in the CBC course did he find real success. Transworld editorial director Jane Lawson commends his “irresistible storytelling voice ….. and unique brand of humour”, locating him in “a select gallery of literary male novelists who write about matters of the heart with an keen unsentimental eye.”
Transworld are billing the novel as “a comedy of errors; a tragedy of choice” and it’s not hard to see why. Ivo, the narrator, resides in St Leonard’s hospice. Once a young man living a carefree life, he is now middle-aged with a failing body and a head full of regrets. Ivo’s dedicated nurse Sheila suggests a game, the ‘A to Z’, to occupy and encourage him. Eager for distraction, Ivo begins listing his body parts alphabetically, associating a memory with each. The results are a kaleidoscopic chain of recollections, which together unravel the story of Ivo’s life; of the girl who tried to help him, and the friend who wouldn’t let her.
The narrative device could be construed (wrongly) as tricksy but as befits a Beckett man, Hannah pulls it off, telling Ivo’s story with great warmth, intimacy and dark humour. And, given the current vogue for narrative innovation, it should tick most of the boxes required for commercial and critical success.
James Hannah (c) Claire Cousin
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