Ambrose Zephyr, the creative mind behind a London advertising agency, learns that he has an illness of "inexplicable origin," and, as a result, little more than a month to live – "give or take a day." He is married to Zappora Ashkenazi, though childless, and still very much in love. In short, he is not ready to leave this world. His wife is not ready to have him leave her.
His plan is straightforward, if a little eccentric. As a boy Ambrose wrote away to embassies and consulates for travel brochures. He collected news about the world. He was also enamoured with alphabets and typefaces. He combined these two loves in a series of illuminated lists. "D is for a beach in the Dutch Antilles, E is for the windy coast of Elba..." Now, in his desperation, he digs out these long-forgotten lists as a guidebook for his final days on earth – a journey both geographical and spiritual.
If this sounds gimmicky, it is. But the novel’s opening sentence tells us "this story is unlikely."
The characters are revealed rather than developed to any great extent, and the author uses broad strokes to reflect on mortality, art, history, and the idea of home. Still, the resulting text is poignant in its restraint. The prose is spare. The humour wry.
It is short enough to be digested of an evening, and potent enough to remain with you afterward.