What do you do when you accidentally murder the wrong man? As in: you intended to murder your lecherous, abusive master, the Earl of Amberley, and instead murder the visiting Friar? Ooops! Clovis, a young chambermaid, and Miss Albertson, the housekeeper, resolve to murder the Earl upon seeing his despicable behaviour toward the birth of his children: prizing and glorifying his stillborn firstborn son, and ignoring his two living children, Catherine and Andrew. However, they accidentally stab the wrong man to death – and manage to hide the evidence. But nineteen years later, they bear witness to the problems their accidental murder of the wrong man: Catherine is set to be married to a conniving, manipulative man who doesn’t love her, and Andrew dramatically rejects his inheritance and runs away.
And thus begins Last Hummingbird West of Chile by Nicholas Ruddock. A round-the-world adventure, following Andrew after his departure from the family manor, and Catherine, after her unhappy marriage, Ruddock takes a step back from his main characters and tells their stories through the viewpoints of everyone around them: Clovis, Miss Albertson; Gerald Egerton, Catherine’s husband; Jaimia, Andrew’s eventual wife; Razak the Navigator, who crosses paths with Andrew, and the world around them: the story is also told from the viewpoint of a white oak who was cut down and used to build the ship Andrew runs away on; the island he ends up shipwrecked on; Zephyrax, a hummingbird whose flock decides to try a new flight path to new lands and ends up travelling with Andrew; and many more.
The viewpoints change throughout the story, introducing new characters and lands, as well as letting some viewpoints come to their end when they no longer serve the narrative anymore. I loved this method of storytelling. The framing of the narrative this way provides a richer story, and the structure of it becomes the narrative itself.
This is also a nod to the epic adventure novel, with a glorious if arduous journey across the world, and a ragtag team of adventurers. However, Ruddock enriches the story with discussions of colonialism, race, slavery and indentured work, and gender roles. There’s a lot happening in this novel, but it never feels overwhelming: Ruddock skillfully rotates the cast of viewpoints, never overwhelming us with characters all at once, and moving settings with ease and equal colour to each part of the journey. I was spellbound throughout the novel, eager to know what was going to happen not only to Andrew and Catherine, but the white oak, Zephyrax, the pigs on Jaimia’s island, Alma McWhirter, Andrew’s boss’ wife in Singapore, and even the donkey they take up for a short period in Egypt. Each viewpoint, no matter how major the character was or how long they lasted in the novel, had a strong, unique voice, and added another layer to the story.
Without a doubt, Last Hummingbird West of Chile was one of the best books I’ve read this year. It was absolutely delightful, and I was gripped to the very last line (which came too soon).
A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!
Nicholas Ruddock is a Canadian physician and writer. He has won numerous international prizes and was shortlisted for the Moth International Poetry Award (Ireland) in 2020. His first novel, The Parabolist (2010), was shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award and the Arthur Ellis Award. His second novel, Night Ambulance (2016), was a Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist. Nicholas has been published in numerous international publications in Canada, England, Northern Ireland, and Ireland. He lives in Guelph, Ontario.
- Publisher : Breakwater Books (June 15 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 312 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1550818848
- ISBN-13 : 978-1550818840
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Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.