Thursday 14 July 2011

Nicholas Hogg - The Hummingbird and the Bear

I love reading new books by writing colleagues, and was really looking forward to the second novel by Nick Hogg, whose first, ‘Show Me The Sky’ (Canongate) is a clever and brilliantly written missing person thriller.
No sooner had I opened novel number two, sent by the publisher (Corsair), than it was borrowed and taken on holiday to Portugal by my son and daughter in law. Poor Nick Hogg has had to wait for a family verdict, and I had to read a sea-stained slightly sandy book!

The words on the cover are these:
How do you fall in love with the right man when you are not the right woman?

“A timely and moving examination of passionate love.”

So. N. Hogg Novel number two, ‘The Hummingbird and the Bear’ starts off down a well-trodden path, and whereas the undeniably beautiful cover and the quote lead the reader to think the main character will be a woman, and the book her sad love story - maybe a deliberate ploy to attract a target market, who knows - the narrator is not a woman at all, but actually a spoken-for bloke, called Sam Taylor. Sam is ‘something in the City’ and engaged to Jenni. In the opening scenes then, Sam Taylor falls for Kay, a spoken-for other woman, at a mutual friend’s wedding. The story proceeds at a gentle pace, lulling the reader into what appears to be a predictable forthcoming sequence of events built round love, betrayal, faithfulness and not.

I should have trusted this writer more. Nick Hogg is a far better writer than that, and his characters are made of sterner stuff. This novel may begin gently, but it does not stay that way for long as his main characters reveal their true selves and excitement and tension builds.
Sam Taylor is an interesting, multi-layered and original character who increases in complexity the further into the book one gets. And Kay too, the woman who steals his heart in the most arresting way, is his equal. Hogg is clever – he bases both of them on the foundations of stereotype, so when we first meet them, we think – ‘Oh right, that’s who we are dealing with’ – in this case, a well-heeled, quite nice bloke, and a bored but attractive wife of an older US businessman. But this impression is soon blown away. In Sam and Kay, Hogg has created a couple who are absolutely made for each other, a modern equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, in a way – with all the attendant conflicts and drama, descending into unexpected violence – and as Sam has to dig deep to find reserves of strength he maybe didn’t know he had - their story becomes something compelling. The drama plays out against the backdrop of Obama's election, and the diurnal conflicts of the financial world.
I actively enjoyed Hogg’s prose in his first novel, and this one is no different, from a writer’s point of view, just enjoying what another writer is doing. He is a craftsman. His ability to make his characters and settings come to life is second to none. You feel you are there, watching from the sidelines, unable to intervene. A strange feeling, and one that is hard to elicit, certainly from this reader. From London, to New York, from New York to Mexico - this novel sweeps you on an unexpected and often breathtaking journey.

The one thing I would say is this, please don’t let the cover put you off. Pretty girl, fuzzy outlines, pretty blues, bright lipstick, rain on window, lacy tracery with birds, and hearts, and that few lines of description, just do not reflect the book I’ve read. It’s like they put the wrong cover on. I would not have picked it up in a bookshop, and would have missed a really strong read. ‘The Hummingbird and the Bear’ becomes a real page-turner. It will probably be made into a film – I can just see its potential.

Read it!

And by the way - my family agree.
This is NIck's first novel. Read that too.

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