'The Hummingbird' by Sandro Veronesi read much better in a long stretch; it confused me when I was reading it in fits and starts. It jumps around in time, telling the story of Marco Carrera in a mixed up order, hopping from childhood to middle age and back again. It is interspersed with letters between himself and Luisa, the love of his life, a relationship that is crushed at its start by the suicide of his sister. It is the life of a flawed human being, who knows this about himself. His world crashes down several times but life just goes on, as it does, and he copes even though he convinces himself he is responsible for the crashes. He turns to people and asks for help but also has unexpected reserves of strength. He devotes his life to his daughter, his parents, his granddaughter. By the end of the book I was hugely fond of this man.
Here he is fifteen, and saves his sister from what he believes is a suicide attempt:
"They got to the beach. Irene stopped lashing the air with the rope and stood next to the boat - which was indeed dangerously close to the shore and at the mercy of the rising tide that could easily carry it away. The whirlpools that gave the beach its name were out there, foaming in the dark sea that kept swelling and swelling, stoked by the wind. Irene stopped to look at them, strained like a pointer dog. Marco stood there catching his breath, ready to pounce on her and anchor her to this world. But Irene stepped aside and hugged - literally - the prow, gently stroking the sea-worn plywood like she would stroke a horse. Marco - his muscles still poised, ready to spring - kept looking at her from behind as she secured the rope to the prow with a bowline knot and then tied the other end around her hips. He let her hoist the boat up to the shed, walking backwards, without rubber rollers, without a trailer, in spurts, by brute force: he didn't step in, didn't help her. Once the dinghy was safe, Irene unhooked the rope from around her hips and tied it to the shed with another bowline knot, then turned towards Marco: this time, as the darkness set in, he looked her in the eye - looked closely - and the devilish grin was gone.
They walked back home together, trying to sync their step so they could hug - a rather unusual hug, Marco clinging to her waist and irene with an arm wrapped around his shoulders. Every now and again she's scratch between the two nerves down the back of his neck with her thumb - ever so gently, light as a feather." (p.142-3)
I also read and had to quickly return 'The Midnight Library' by Matt Haig, which was actually a bit like a story version of 'Reasons to Stay Alive', in which a young woman find her life meaningless and empty and decides to end it. She finds herself in an 'in-between' place where she can choose to enter other 'lives' that she might have had if she had made different choices. In each of these lives she finds that although she thought they might be better outcomes each has their own problems. I found it a bit annoying because in all the other lives she was so much more 'successful' and adventurous. It frustrates me because it is part of what social media does to people, it presents them with exciting other lives that they could be having if only they had made better choices and just makes them feel bad about ordinary lives, when in reality only a tiny number of people end up being music icons or being an olympic swimmer and most of us do ordinary jobs and there are not alternate universes where we are more talented. I realise that was not his aim but it had the opposite effect on me.
Stay safe. Be kind. Get your books back to the library on time.