The Hummingbird and the Bear: novel review

There’s something very interesting about meeting a writer after you’ve read their work, although meeting somebody immediately after reading their novel can be a little disjointing. For years I’ve despaired of readers who have the misguided impression that I am the character(s) I write about. This can be particularly laughable (for me) and galling (for them) when what they’ve been reading is erotica.

And then I did it myself – not as entirely or blindly as my readers sometimes do, but I finished Nicholas Hogg’s The Hummingbird and the Bear just the day before I met him at the launch party for Photo Stories (sorry, but it’s not every day a writer has her work exhibited in the Saatchi offices so I’ll brag for as long as I can). And in talking to him I found that I was beginning to elide the gap between writer and character and look for evidence of Sam Taylor’s life in the biographical details of his creator: Nicholas Hogg.

Sam’s life seems to have struck some reviewers as a little unlikely, but from what I know of city high-flyers, it really isn’t. Raised by a single mother and then with a violent step-father, he becomes one of the many young men who are thrown out of their ‘family’ homes by a man who usurps the role of head of householder without choosing to serve as father. After a few years of roughing it, Sam turns his life around, at least on the material level, and becomes a self-made man.

But the self-made man, with a superb standard of living, ‘perfect’ girlfriend and every possible advantage, is unmade when he meets a woman whom he cannot resist and who can’t resist him.

From the moment Sam and Kay meeting at a wedding they are compelled towards each other, regardless of risk. For Sam the risk is the collapse of his beautiful, but precarious lifestyle but for Kay the risks are greater: she’s already married and to a powerful man who doesn’t like losing anything, least of all his wife.

As the story unfolds we see similarities between Sam and Kay – both have fracture lines in their family histories that they have concealed but which bring them together in a mutual and ultimately destructive love affair. The collapse of their fake lives is set against the collapse of the finance industry in which Sam works and where Kay’s husband is a major player to create a micro/macro scenario of loss, damage and spiralling madness.

Not much of Sam’s story fit with his writer’s life; Nicholas is altogether a better-sorted and more balanced individual, so it didn’t take me long to sort out my initial conflation of the two, but then Nick and I got talking about the banking industry, culture and risk and how many of the guys in that industry had a culture of risk-taking that, when you dug a little deeper, was based in their past and in some problem: childhood deprivation, loss of a parent, early drink and drug abuse and so on that gave those ‘big swinging dicks’ a skewed perspective on risk and the ability to lie with confidence and style, even to themselves.

The Hummingbird and the Bear is an unusual book – written by a man about themes usually reserved for ‘women’s literature’ (up yours, VS Naipaul). It’s not what I would usually read but I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anybody who enjoys reading love stories, those who like fast-moving thrillers but are also interested in relationships and anybody who wonders why men don’t write love-stories: they do, Nick has, and it’s a damn good read!

1 Comment

  1. pinkyandnobrain
    5th June 2011

    Okay, you have completely sold it to me – really want to read the book now! Thank you for an incisive review.

    Also, congratulations again on having your work exhibited in the Saatchi offices. You should so go on bragging about it for as long as you can get away with (longer even!).


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