Everything that makes the novel worthwhile and engaging is here: warmth, wit, intelligence, love, death, high seriousness, low comedy, philosophy, subtle personal relationships and the complex interior life of human beings ... the wonderful (and relieved) feeling I had while reading this novel was that I was in the hands of a seasoned practitioner writing at that peak moment in a career where insight and experience in the form meet insight and experience in life ... Veronesi delivers Carrera’s story by moving backwards and forwards in time: the chapter titles tell us we’re in the 1970s, or in 2018, or 1988-1999 or, at the end, in 2030. Meanwhile, the form itself changes—sometimes we’re reading narrative, sometimes pure dialogue, sometimes letters, poetry, emails, inventories, postcards. The effect is to keep everything fresh and engaging. You remain alert. You sift. You piece the life together like a mosaic. Sure, there may be one or two tiles that you don’t love (a couple of chapters felt levered in, to me—as though Veronesi was trying to find a home for something he had written elsewhere), but these prove to be the exceptions and the overall effect is magnificent—moving, replete, beautiful.
The protagonist...can't see what's coming at him. Mr. Veronesi sharpens this irony by scrambling the presentation of Marco’s life, alternating between scenes of his youth and his snake-bitten adulthood, and frequently introducing the aftermath of an event before its origins. (Scenes of his acrimonious divorce, for instance, precede the story of his marriage.) This makes knowing gods of readers: we’re aware of every trap he blindly marches into. It’s a blunt but effective means of portraying him as a hostage to fate. The novel’s most memorable set pieces—one takes place at a high-stakes gambling hall, another describes the freak occurrences that save Marco from an airplane crash—evoke the designs of an unknown cosmic order ... It’s a stirring portrait, as Mr. Veronesi is an expert at playing on the reader’s deepest fears and hopes in emotionally involving ways—though for me the manipulations in the novel’s redemptive ending passed the limits of credulity. But there is no clear line that separates how much higher meaning readers want to believe in and how much they can finally accept.
What might have been a folly is a towering achievement ... In a bravado exercise in chronological orientation, which demands readers’ close attention, short chapters flit back and forth, from the 1970s to the near future, stopping off at key points in Marco’s life ... Veronesi is as sharp as a glass of grappa on the Italian obsession with appearance ... Veronesi chronicles Marco’s journey from childhood to parenthood and beyond with a light comic touch, a playfulness that focuses on his protagonist’s love of the quiet life ... It’s a testament to Veronesi’s competence that he can bring fun to such brooding themes. Not since William Boyd’s Any Human Heart has a novel captured the feast and famine nature of a single life with such invention and tenderness. Veronesi explores, with great humour, how the passage of time both expands and expunges the impact of events. And, he suggests, after the pounding of years it is only an individual’s character that determines whether or not the edifice will hold.
The Hummingbird, as the novel is titled in Elena Pala’s uneven English translation, is an intricately executed work, told via letters, emails, text chains, transcribed conversations, and traditional narrative, all of which are jumbled up and presented out of chronological order, particularly in the first half of the book ... Despite readers being prepared for Irene’s death, Veronesi’s execution of the scene is shattering ... The chapter is a truly brilliant piece of narrative and a high point of Pala’s translation, hitting countless emotional beats and conveying the deliberate pacing of Veronesi’s original ... [a] potential hurdle for American readers is the unmistakably British, and sometimes Irish, texture of Pala’s prose, which her editors seem not to have adjusted at all for the US publication ... None of these peccadillos constitutes a fatal flaw, of course, and yet their accretion, coupled with the strength of Veronesi’s original, convinces me that readers deserved a bit more attention from both the translator and her editors. Consider this criticism simply a bit of a spoiler—which I guess makes me, in many eyes, an insensitive monster trying to ruin your fun. I won’t succeed. Veronesi’s execution is too strong.
Veronesi originally trained as an architect and, rather marvellously, it shows: the structure is inventive, bold, unexpected—slightly bonkers but elegant, and cohesive. Chapters leap around between the 1970s and 2030, while the narrative switches from calm omniscience to chunks of 'real' life: transcribed phone calls, texts, emails. The timeframe offers nice opportunities for foreshadowing—an old trick, but a good one—which keeps the pages turning. The hotchpotch structure, meanwhile, conveys life’s messy unpredictability: joy and desperation, simple pleasures, moments of transcendence, much reeling and confusion ... Things get oddly shaky towards the end, though, when the focus turns to Marco’s granddaughter Miraijin, who is a modern Messiah ... There is nothing remotely believable about her. It is a testimony to Veronesi’s muscular storytelling skills that the ending is still a proper tearjerker.
[A] unique portrait of an enigma of a man ... a moving, black-humored work about family and the tragedies born of time and poor decisions. Veronesi has created complicated characters that don’t always behave nobly, are products of their time and are, from a literary standpoint, the richer for it.
Dramatizing the arc of Carrera’s life through flashbacks, emails, poetry, and phone messages, Veronesi draws a sumptuous portrait of a character whose failings are his biggest charm and who wrestles with sibling and parental issues like most of us. ... This is a moving reminder that even the most ordinary lives are peppered with touches of the extraordinary.
... the author's troubling depictions of women detract from his novel’s strengths. We find out that Marco fell in love with Luisa when she was 13 and he was 20, a detail the novel fails to acknowledge. Meanwhilie, Marco’s 'clinically insane' wife, Marina, brings a petition of divorce against him that includes false allegations of abuse when she finds out about his relationship with Luisa. The novel’s greatest failure, though, is Miraijin, whom Veronesi describes in uncomfortably sexual terms and as 'the literal embodiment of the utopian ideals of multiculturalism.' Unsurprisingly, she never feels like a real person. An intriguing but ultimately disappointing experiment in fictional biography.
Cleverly structured like a jigsaw puzzle, the story’s disparate pieces are overlaid and slowly developed, such as the details of Marco’s sister’s death. A senseless tragedy, splashes of levity, and unexpected poignancy bring this to a moving conclusion. Veronesi’s dark modern chronicle shimmers with intelligence and flashes of pathos.