This book is certainly very different from everything I’ve read for a long time. It tells its story in 24 themed chapters, each containing ten numbered paragraphs with 120 words in each.
The story of our lives isn’t usually told as one tale from the minute we’re born to the present day. We jump around all over the place, telling bits of our lives as we see fit at different times. Sometimes some of our stories will be of more interest or relevance to some than others, but we develop an instinct for this as we get older and our experiences can become invaluable for others. Even within the confines of a single anecdote we can jump around a lot, bringing a range of jokes and pieces of information into the story.
We’ve all read dreary autobiographies that maybe start with the person’s grandparents and work right up to the present day. The structure employed in With a Zero to its Heart means the story is always fresh, with every little piece filled with a degree of surprise and wonder. The stories that are featured in each paragraph are often not hugely dramatic in and of themselves but they build up a strong picture across the course of the book with each paragraph taking on more meaning and importance as we develop a greater understanding of the character.
We’re given the details of his experience of a regular event such as shopping for clothes and we’re able to contrast it with his earlier story about going through his father’s things and the memories attached to his father’s ties. There’s a real sense that small events that may seem rather mundane actually build up over time to become much bigger things. This is sketched out across the book as we see things like his early sexual experiences develop into much more mature points in his life later on.
This short book says so much more than many books say in much weightier tomes. If gives us a real look at a life as it’s lived through the 24 chapters. We don’t remember our lives in a particular order but things just come back to us randomly at different times. Charles Lambert’s great skill has given us a character that feels completely real as we go through the happy and sad times with him through the vast range of loves and experiences that make up a life.