The Hummingbird—Sandro Veronesi

[This novel was published in 2019 as Il colibrì, and translated into English in 2021. I decided to read it in three sections, writing about each section before reading further. Spoiler alert: If you read this running commentary, you will find out everything that happens in the book as I read it.]

31 October 2021
To Except (1988-1999)
Things happen to Marco Carrera, all the time. I don’t know yet whether this novel is more than the sum of its plotty, coincidence-driven parts, and I’m OK with that at the moment.

It’s a part of the bag-of-tricks narrative that Veronesi’s approach is anti-chronological—without the dates in the chapter titles we’d be lost. The first chapter is set in 1999, when the main character’s marriage is about to come crashing to an end. The chapter I’ve decided to pause at—I’ve only read a few pages of it—contains a description of how it was doomed from the start. A little over half-way between the first chapter and this one, the rather talkative narrator—I’m sure I’ll come back to the narrator later—makes one of his bold assertions: ‘It should be common knowledge – and yet it isn’t – that the course of every new relationship is set from the start, once and for all, every time; and that in order to know in advance how things will end, you only have to look at how they began.’ I hadn’t realised, despite some dark hints, that this was a very big clue.

Where to start? The first chapter—in fact, the third, because there’s an inconsequential seeming one-line postcard that divides it from the actual first—depends on the life-changing visit made by his wife’s psychoanalyst. He wants to warn Marco, strictly against the ethics of his own profession, that his life is in danger. Later, we come to understand that Marina, the wife, really does have some serious problems with her mental health, and that there had been what the narrator calls three distinct ‘cracks’ in the marriage long before this. The visit changes Marco’s life—he is divorced before the end of the year—and, we discover much later, it changes the psychoanalyst’s life too. He decides to quit the profession and do something measurably more useful instead. He travels the world offering psychological counselling to the victims of disasters.

This is a narrative with the volume turned up high. I mentioned that things happen to Marco, and a lot of the ones we get to know about are extraordinary. We learn early on that his older sister drowned in the sea near their holiday home—the setting is unashamedly middle-class, the parents successful architects—and that Marco, then in his early twenties, had blamed his younger brother. This same brother soon leaves Italy forever, and cuts off all connections with Marco. Not that this stops Marco writing detailed letters to him about their parents’ possessions. He seems to want to be scrupulously fair about the division of the estate, following their deaths—about which we know nothing yet.

The sister, according to both Marco and the narrator, had always been an awkward force of nature in the family—although not, we are to understand, with Marco himself. One of her habits is to grind down the father’s (rather lacklustre) determination that she mustn’t always get her own way—which is how, some years before her death, she had crashed the family car in an extraordinary, dreamlike morning of fog. The accident is witnessed, at several steps removed, by Marco. He is making his way on foot because fuel rationing means he can’t use his new Vespa…. Meanwhile, she had no interest in fuel rationing, and… wasn’t killed, this time. This was not the only time she was near to death, we understand. So far, we know no details of how she actually drowned.

Marco has his own near-misses, just as spectacular. More so, in one case, and I don’t mean his supposed escape—I say supposed, because we have been told nothing of the threat—from his supposedly crazy wife’s plan to kill him. 20-odd years before, hardly an adult yet, a strange friend of his—neither ‘strange’ nor ‘friend’ even begin to describe him—gets him into serious gambling. The friend, Duccio, is very good indeed at calculating the odds, befriends the old men at the racecourse, and always wins ‘with his slick roulette systems, his supernatural intuition for craps, his animal instinct for blackjack.’ Marco decides they need to branch out, books a cheap flight out of the country—and is bemused by his friend’s terror once they are on board. Duccio makes a scene, warns everybody that they are already dead and, finally, is hustled off by Marco. To the relief of everyone—who, to the surprise of not a single reader, will all die when the plane crashes.

Veronesi, or the look-at-me narrator, has been preparing us for this. Duccio, whose surname ‘Chilleri’ sounds al little like the English ‘killer’, has a reputation for bringing bad luck to everybody he knows except Marco. One chapter has the title ‘The Eye of the Storm’, and is about how Marco is in that calm, still place next to Chilleri while anyone around is caught up in the bad luck swirling around him. So, how to deal with this story that seems to prove his malignant powers? Marco tells nobody about their escape, even his sister who seems to know—she probably listened in on Marco’s phone conversations about the upcoming trip, the narrator helpfully suggests—that they should have been on the flight. Weeks go by and, becoming uneasy to be keeping such a strange secret, he tells all. The way he tells it, in a chapter entitled ‘The last night of innocence’, is an object lesson in how the worldly, all-seeing narrator can see right through his man:

‘He told them what in two months he hadn’t revealed to anyone, and he told them as if he’d always been one of them, on their side, as if he hadn’t always fought that toxic mix of cynicism and superstition that marked Duccio out as a jinx. He faithfully reported the terrible words Duccio had aimed at those poor sods (‘You’re all dead! You’re dead already and you want to kill me too!’). […] It wasn’t like him, and in fairness it’s not what he intended to do, or at least not what he’d set out to do. And yet, as he unburdened himself to his old acquaintances, Marco did precisely that: he doomed the friend who saved his life to a fate he’d fought and rejected for years – a fate Duccio Chilleri would never be able to escape for the rest of his days.’

So, if there’s one thing Marco is not, it’s an innocent victim of fate. The narrator lets us come to realise this again in the chapter describing the psychological problem suffered by Marco and Marina’s only daughter, Adele. It’s as bizarre as most other things in this book, an imaginary thread that she thinks she has coming straight out of her back. If anyone passes behind her, she elaborately disentangles it by retracing a path around the same person. She’s three years old when this starts, and it carries on secretly—she only tells Marco, although he tells Marna too— until it reaches a crisis on a school trip. Enough said: to use one of the narrator’s lines in a different context, ‘that should suffice for now, no point describing it further.’ The head teacher demands they take her to a psychologist, the preposterously named Manfrotto the Wizard—don’t ask—who, eventually, diagnoses that the girl wants to see more of her father.

This is when the narrator, in his knowing, worldly way, tells us what sort of a parent Marco had been before. He has to spend more time, taking her on the long drive to school, ‘drastically cutting back on his hobbies (photography, tennis, poker)’ having been ‘the kind of parent who had come home at 8 p.m.’ It isn’t judgmental. Our narrator, who sometimes seems a variation on the imagined inner self at the centre of every person’s consciousness, is knowing enough to see him in the round, that’s all. And, as this new parenting regime goes on, the thread disappears. Marco had had a theory that the thread idea was based on televised fencing matches, in which fencers are attached by a cord to an electronic sensor behind them—and when he enrols her in fencing lessons, the thread soon disappears. But he is also spending mountains of time with her, and Manfrotto the Wizard decides the change in Marco’s parenting style had been the real solution.

Does it matter? Or does it just become another exotic detail in Marco’s life? Whatever, it seems to be verified when, after the marriage ends and Marina insists on taking their daughter with her to Germany, the thread reappears. Adele returns to live with him, although he seems reluctant to offer the psychoanalyst any details of their lives together. This is ten years after their one previous meeting, when he contacts Marco both to tell him how important their meeting had been to him, and to find out how things panned out with Marco and his wife. ‘She didn’t kill me, as you can see,’ Marco drily acknowledges but, mostly, it’s just a factual account. OK.

But we learn a little, including the fact that the psychoanalyst thought she was dangerous enough for him to risk his career and, particularly in one chapter, we learn about the ‘cracks’. The first is when Marco tells Marina that if she’s going to insist on a new, expensive school she would have to do all the driving, ‘every single one’ (author’s italics). This is ‘the first real crack, the first observable wound on the (otherwise still intact) surface of their relationship. Because obviously Marina couldn’t get Adele to school and pick her up every single day, which meant that from time to time Marco had to endure the forty-five-minute drive, and as a result they both ended up complaining: she blamed Marco for doing the bare minimum and not helping out enough, and he blamed Marina for not keeping her side of the bargain. What is more, there were issues from the start. Adele didn’t want to go to the new school….’ It’s this narrator’s seen-it-all-before take on what marriages are like…

…and it carries on from there. The second crack, ironically, comes when Marco starts to be a real presence in Adele’s life. Marina has far less to do and, ‘as the old adage goes – idle hands are the devil’s workshop (or at least they are in this story), although the damage would only become apparent further down the line.’ The third crack is subtler, and again it comes out of resentment. Marco is sure his fencing idea is what cured Adele of her thread fantasy, but the psychologist claims the credit: ‘it disappeared not because he’d introduced her to the magical world of fencing (i.e. thanks to him), but thanks to Dr Nocetti’s intuition. All right, Marco Carrera thought, it wasn’t the truth, but it was an acceptable version, a tolerable sacrifice. […] it wouldn’t make sense to keep arguing about it. So he didn’t object and thanked Manfrotto the Wizard. To keep the peace. For his daughter’s sake. Without complaining. This generated the third crack.’

It’s only in the chapter I’m currently reading, ‘Except’, that we discover that the whole marriage was based on a lie. It’s also based on one of Veronesi’s believe-it-or-not coincidences—not that it matters whether we believe it or not. Marco is doing what he never does—because he is off sick—watching morning TV. On to the screen comes a young woman, telling the tragic story of why she hadn’t been on the same flight that Marco and Duccio had left before take-off. ‘They’d both lost an elder sister and they’d both escaped the same plane crash: on the strength of these astonishing coincidences alone, Marco Carrera fell in love with that weeping young woman on the spot (her touching beauty didn’t hurt either).’ Which is nearly as far as I’ve got, except…

…the chapter also fills in some gaps about one of the most bizarre things, of all of them, in Marco’s life—his other great love. It’s a long-term relationship with a woman he met long before Marina. This being an anti-chronological, fragmented account, she appears first in questions the psychoanalyst asks Marco in the third chapter—and which, to begin with, he flatly denies. No, he hasn’t had a secret lover, Luisa Lattes, for over 20 years… but then yes, he has. (The postcard had been from ‘M’ to her a year before….) But, despite the love being mutual, we discover in ‘Except’ that it had never been consummated by this time. The chapter following the interview with the psychoanalyst consists of a letter from Marco to her, a very short time after the holiday when his sister drowned. Luisa’s wealthier family owned the big house next door, and what the 20-something Marco writes is full of the hopelessness of recipient of a letter he sends two years after the meeting—if it even had been a meeting—and, as the novel progresses, we have to piece together the nature of the relationship. I’m not sure how far we get.

And one other thing. I mentioned the letters Marco sends to his brother, the one who will neither return to Italy from America nor return any message to Marco. The letters are always elaborate and convoluted, always (I think) to do with the things left behind by their parents—and especially by the father. A long, professionally-written list of all the fashionable house furnishings dating from the chic 1960s onwards; details of the almost full set of an obscure science fiction series of books, published fortnightly, and with carefully-reasoned arguments about why about six of them, out of nearly 300, are missing; the elaborate model train layouts, and the Thomas Pynchon-like near-secret society of aficionados to whom Marco eventually passes them on….

Eh? What? And why is Marco so determined that his brother should get his share of anything that might be sold—or, in the case of the books, the whole library?

Beats me.

23rd November
To Oxygen Mask (2012)
The mask is a metaphor, used by Dr Carradori when Marco telephones him in a desperate state of mind. He, Carradori, is Marco’s wife’s ex-psychotherapist, the one who wafts in and, mainly, out of Marco’s life from time to time. Now, he has just suggested to Marco that he is the one who has the time and, in some ways, the duty to impart the news of their daughter’s death in a climbing accident to Marina. It’s himself that Marco needs to look after, just as in a flight emergency, it’s crucially important to put on one’s own oxygen mask before trying to help anyone else. OK, got it.

Marco’s desperation follows the fourth death that has been recounted in this middle section of the novel. The first had been that of his sister Irene, whose suicide by drowning came about because of the unhappy, and highly Hummingbird-esque coming together of important moments in the lives of all five family members.  Veronesi, typically, has worked hard to prepare us for each one of them. One evening during their annual summer holidays, the parents are out to mark the anniversary of the chance-in-a-million accidental death of one of Marco’s father’s oldest friends. The widow is always appreciative of the effort they make—and, for once, Marco’s mother appreciates something about the way her husband explains how he has come to terms with the impossibility of the accident as they drive to pick her up. After the meal, and after years of their having drifted very far apart, it leads to a short-lived hour or two of passion, something like their early love.

Meanwhile, Marco has decided that at fifteen, Luisa is old enough for him to ask her out for the evening. He tells neither his parents nor hers, because he’s 22, for goodness’ sake. But he’s waited for this moment since before he reached puberty himself, when she was still a little girl… and if it sounds weird, that’s because it is—as is his realisation that if he doesn’t do it, his brother Giacomo will ask her first. He’s nearer to her in age, is good-looking, and is obviously waiting for the moment too, despite having had a girlfriend for two years already. Giacomo is seriously pissed off when it’s clear that Luisa had always been far more interested in Marco, and phones her house to check that she really has gone out, supposedly to see friends of hers.

Irene, meanwhile, is clearly in the frame of mind to do herself harm. In an earlier chapter, we’ve already learnt of how, many years before, Marco had dogged her footsteps all the way to the shore by the deadly whirlpools where she had clearly intended to end it all. He had saved her life—or so the narrator lets us believe, so why shouldn’t we? Especially now, when she’s already in her late 20s and has alienated so many of her peers that she still has to go on holidays with her parents. She’s had enough of it and, this time, there’s nobody around to make her change her mind.

This is the first death and, like all the others, it resonates down the years. Which means, because of the fractured chronology of this novel, that it’s been resonating with Marco from the moment we first met him. As have all the others, because once Veronesi has turned his attention to a theme—in this case, bereavement—he plays variations on it. He loves echoes, things that might seem to arise by chance but chime with something that has already taken place, or will take place later. It’s clearly deliberate, for instance, that the outlandish mischance of the death of Marco’s old friend years ago is described in the same chapter in which Irene is alone in the holiday home because, coincidentally, everybody else is preoccupied with their own lives. And Marco’s father’s explanation that evening is a kind of proof that if his friend hadn’t died that way, well, there was a time when a different set of circumstances had once nearly led to him killing his friend in anger. The time-frame, he argues, was identical, a few hundredths of a second…. We already know that Irene’s death is only one of a whole series of possible deaths.

And, as if by magic, here’s the explanation for Marco’s off-off love affair with Luisa. Who could possibly, after such a terrible event at the very moment…? It isn’t magic, of course, any more than it’s a sufficient reason for two eminently rational people to allow it to keep them apart. It’s more like another conjuring trick, like the one that allows Marco’s father’s old friend to be killed by a water-tank accidentally dropped from a helicopter or, later, for the cause of the death of the daughter who imagined a thread to keep her linked to her father to be—guess. How does Marco describe it to Dr Carradori? ‘You know what ropes meant for her! What they represented!’ The doctor gets it. ‘The thread…’ and Marco jumps in: ‘Precisely! She’d spent half her childhood protecting that fucking thread, making sure it wouldn’t tangle, that it wouldn’t snap. And then…’ Of course, her climbing-rope has done what climbing-ropes never do. It’s broken and allowed her to fall to her death. You couldn’t make it up.

Except that’s all this author ever does, make it up, daring us not to be carried along by the bravura storytelling. Is it just flashiness? Or does Veronesi have a genuine purpose in writing this novel, to demonstrate how a life that might seem to be an unfortunate series of mischances really can be shown to have a meaning? Maybe our knowing, all-knowing narrator is Marco’s guardian angel, one who can argue the case for Marco despite all his flaws. And, in this narrative, connections that might be meaningful are made all the time. Like I’ve just remembered that when Marco saves his sister’s life by the whirlpools, she has a rope that she is snapping in front of his face like a whip. So?

So, who knows? Right at the start I was wondering whether this novel, with its bag-of-tricks narrative, is more than the sum of its coincidence-driven parts. At the moment, I’m tempted to think that no, it isn’t. It’s an entertainment, a show, and if there are insights into what a man’s life might be about—definitely, unashamedly a man’s life—well, maybe they are there to keep us reading. A serious novel, with serious literary echoes and homages paid—you should read the Acknowledgments, where Veronesi cites about ten models for events and storylines—must be about more than just pyrotechnics, surely?

I’ll shut up about it for a bit because, among other things, there are the other two deaths to talk about. Veronesi has been working quite hard to give some roundness to Marco’s previously one-dimensional parents. They have Christian names by which they are now referred routinely, they have personalities, they respond, sort of, to the death of their daughter…. I’m not convinced. It’s as though Veronesi wants us to believe that the sad coincidence of them both dying of cancer within a month of each other is all too feasible, even recognisable from cases we’ve come across in our own lives. I guess this is to make Marco’s pain seem all the more genuine, the terrible decision he makes to administer a fatal shot of morphine to his father seem all the more poignant.

It doesn’t work for me. I realised at around this point that I don’t really care about any of it. So what if Giacomo, for the first time in twenty years, comes to stay for a fairly long period with them and offer them real care? So what if he leaves suddenly and almost unannounced, only having mentioned in passing that he would have to go beck to teaching his classes at some point? This is all before those weird, content-driven letters we read in the early chapters, the ones Marco sends about the furnishings and science fiction books… but Giacomo seems no more real now than he did then. Instead, I find myself waiting for the next look-at-me moment in the narrative, and there aren’t many in this chapter. It isn’t really written in that style.

Other things happen in other chapters and at other times. The relationship with Luisa limps on, and we find out that once, after Marco’s divorce, they had come very close to getting together at last. One of the look-at-me features of this storyline, to go with the old-fashioned epistolary conceit with its old-fashioned ‘fountain pens, lick-and-seal envelopes, and stamps,’ is Luisa’s proud discovery of hummingbird quotations. She knows this had been Marco’s nickname before his father, against the usual run of things, had put his foot down to insist on growth hormone treatment for him. (We’re learning all about them, see?) Do I need to say any more about Luisa, the frankly unbelievable non-consummation, and those quotations? Maybe when I’ve read the rest of the novel…

…but that growth hormone conceit has just made me wonder why Veronesi has given his main character this particular back-story. It’s definitely a part of this novel’s slowly evolving chronology—there are a lot of intertwined time-lines, but all of them moving on towards some kind of end point—that Marco grows as a person. He becomes a better father, he becomes a better son, he does his best, from not too awful beginnings (we remember him saving Irene’s life simply by not letting her send him away) to become a better brother. Maybe the narrator isn’t a guardian angel, but a judge, presenting his assessment of his subject in the round. There is no mention of religion in this novel, but there are a lot of times when the reader can’t help but think about whether somebody is behaving well. Dr Carradori, for instance, is definitely making some good moral choices. With Marco’s brother, on the other hand, things aren’t quite so clear.

Meanwhile, I don’t think Adele’s choices are particularly held up for scrutiny, at least not  from this moral point of view. She is presented as very special—I can’t think of another word to describe it—independent, strong, and still as attached to her father as she was in childhood. She becomes pregnant on one of her climbing or surfing trips, never discloses who the father is, and decides to name her future child the Japanese for ‘Man of the future.’ When the child is born a girl, that’s somehow even better—just think, the man of the future is a woman! Whatever, even Marco can see that Adele’s closeness to him might be seen as strange. She moves in, so that he can become the child’s father and grandfather at the same time, an idea that’s about as problematic as it gets in this novel full of problematic parent/child relationships.

And she is killed, in one of Veronesi’s many authorial coups. There had been some hints of it—maybe only one hint, and I can’t remember where it was—but… but what? But let’s see where this author takes it next. Marco is left with his two-year-old granddaughter, at least as exceptional in her own way as Adele had been. But Marco has telephoned Dr Carradori to ask for his help. How on earth can he carry on when all he wants to do is end it all? The good doctor dissuades him from that, reminds him about the oxygen mask, and… we wonder whether there will now be a masterful bringing-together of all this novel’s disparate elements, a tying up of all those—pun intended—loose threads.

Let’s see.

27 November
To the end…
…which didn’t work for me at all. As I was reading it, I found myself going back again to that question about whether this novel is more than the sum of its parts. No, I was thinking, it isn’t. Yes, Veronesi does his best to persuade us that he’s tied up all the threads, but I didn’t find any of it masterful, as I’d hoped. I found it glib.

Are you interested in what happens? I’ll get back to that, but I need to start with a letter from Marco to Luisa in August 2015, and one from her three years later that might, or might not, be the key to everything in Marco’s life. The irony—how many ironies are there in this novel?—is that Marco’s letter is written in order to call the whole thing off once and for all, including the letters. Another irony is that he’s writing to her Paris address when she is, in fact, still in Italy with him, before he drives her to the airport the next day. It means she won’t get it until she’s hundreds of miles away. For whatever reason, he chooses to write because he’s mortified by what she has told him, in a conversation the previous day that we’re now hearing about for the first time.

‘Yes, what you told me about Giacomo yesterday – after all these years – really horrified me. But what you said afterwards, my dear Luisa, was worse – much worse than that. Because in your inability to tell me about Giacomo I can (with a little effort) still see the girl I love: I can tell myself ‘that’s life’ and accept it. I am fifty-six years old, and I’ve had to swallow far worse. But when you finally decided to come clean, you just couldn’t handle my surprise (and my anger too – rather justified anger, you have to give me that): instead of simply apologising, you started this elaborate dance to defend yourself, because suddenly I was the danger you had to escape from (no less!), I was ‘violating your boundaries’ and ‘projecting my own guilt onto you’. That wasn’t you talking. That was her – what’s her name? Madame Brambly? Broccoly? What the hell is her name again?’

His complaint, or one of them, is that it’s the interference of one of the tribe of therapists that he says he hates so much who is guiding Luisa’s responses to him. (It’s another irony, given that Dr Carradori has saved his life at least twice. OK, he isn’t Marco’s therapist, but he still does the right thing for him.) He pretends he can’t remember her name—he can really—and he spends several more pages coming to the conclusion that Luisa has really done him over. Essentially, she seems to have said that all those years ago, Giacomo was as much in love with her as Marco was. Which now makes Marco feel terrible.

‘I blamed him entirely for what happened on that awful night. Irene had been in a bad way for a while, and it showed. I never lost sight of her all summer except for one evening, that evening, to see you: but Giacomo was with her, so I felt safe. I was relaxed when I left the house because he was there with her. That’s why I blamed him afterwards. I can still see his stricken face when I blamed him. I told him he was a coward. I told him it was his fault Irene had died. I said those things, I did – and I know it’s terrible, and I’ve regretted it for the rest of my life.’ Irony number—how many is it now?—is that he is blaming her now instead of blaming his brother. I’ve realised as I’m writing this that the situation has all the elements of farce. Misunderstandings lead to false conclusions and missed opportunities to correct them. But instead of hilarity, what ensues is three messed-up lives.

I think I’ve nearly had enough of this this now…. but Veronesi hasn’t. So, after three or four chapters about other stuff, we get what the chapter title tells us is Luisa’s third ‘hummingbird’ letter. She’s decided she’s finally worked it out: ‘you really are a hummingbird and not because you were so little. You are a hummingbird because all your energy is spent keeping still. Seventy wing beats per second only to remain where you are. And you truly are formidable at this. You can keep still as time flows around you, you can stop it flowing, sometimes you can turn back time, even – just like a hummingbird, you can fly backwards and retrieve lost time. That’s why being with you is so beautiful. That said, what comes so easy to you is almost impossible for other people.’

I’m going to leave that there for now—I’ll come back to it, becaue Veronesi does—because sometimes I don’t have any idea what an author is aiming for. Is the fractured time-scheme designed to evoke how Marco’s take on time is different from anybody else’s—and if so, why does he actually seem to move forward through it in exactly the same way as the rest of us? Meanwhile, is Marco the hero he denies he is? Or not? And are we nearly there yet?

Not really, but I’m going to fast-forward, to the ending that I was calling glib. On his way there, Veronesi takes Marco right up to the present day—the novel is from 2019, remember—and then some years beyond. He’s taking his granddaughter with him, Miraijin, i.e. Man of the future. And reader, she is exactly what Adele had predicted she would be, a completely new kind of person, living as much in cyberspace as n the real world. She’s an online Greta Thunberg and all-round influencer for the youth of the third and fourth decades of the century. Veronesi endows her with what are tantamount to superpowers, as though this one human being can embody everything mentally and morally strong and good.

I was waiting for the let-down, for our worldly-wise narrator to puncture the balloon. But he appears to be asleep, because Veronesi lets himself get away with it. He’s also letting himself get away with not telling us how her story ends, because he brings Marco’s story to an early end instead. Like his parents, he’s going to die of cancer, but unlike them he’s going to hasten the end in order to avoid all the mess. Which he does, surrounded by all the important people in his life. Carradori has done himself proud, making any arrangements that Marco himself can no longer do, so that alongside Miraijin there’s Giacomo, his ex-bonkers ex-wife Marina, Luisa…. It’s all lovely, and there’s even a final consummation/not-consummation with Luisa. In other words—how does it go?—’ A kiss! On the mouth! Tongue and all! She holds his head in her hands, passionately, who cares if they’re old, if Giacomo sees them, if everyone sees them!’

Veronesi, of course, needs to make sure we really, really get that thing about Marco being able to move back and forth in time to stay still. ‘Marco grabs her head too and holds her close, and God bless the jab of pain down his side. He wanted to kiss her too. It’s what he always wanted, always. He wanted to kiss her for the first time in that very spot, half a century before, and he never stopped wanting it since.’ Yes, we know.

But that isn’t the end, either. After Marco has drifted into a meticulously managed unconsciousness and death—‘Let us pray for him, and all the ships out at sea,’ whatever that means—there’s a love poem from Marco to Luisa, dated November 1997 for some reason that’s a long way beyond me. It’s about the need to let the world know that they are in love, and…

…I really have had enough now.

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