Book Review: Panenka by Ronan Hession

Leonard and Hungry Paul is a book whose brilliance and reputation has spread like well deserved wildfire. It is a book with empathy and humanity at it’s heart. And quite possibly a tough act to follow.

So when Bluemoose Books announced the publication of Ronan Hession’s next novel Panenka, I for one was both thrilled and intrigued. Huge thanks as always go to Kevin at Bluemoose for my gifted copy.

A couple of weekends ago, I settled down and dived in. And resurfaced just about 24 hours later. It took less that two pages for me to be completely hooked.

Panenka is the story of a life. Of a man shaped and defined by a moment in time. A moment that changes not just his outlook, his family but even his name. For the footballing moment that turned Joseph to Panenka is embedded not just in his DNA but the fabric of the community he remains within.

When we join Panenka’s story he is middle aged, his life is tainted by the past but there are shoots of hope in the form of his newly nurtured relationship with his daughter, Marie -Therese and his beloved grandson Arthur. But Panenka is keeping a secret and it is a secret that threatens to bring down everything he holds dear.

A chance encounter with a newcomer to the town Esther gives Panenka the chance to momentarily leave his past behind. When he is with Esther he can become Joseph again, move through the streets he knows well but look around with fresh eyes. Esther allows him to step outside the events that have come so long to define him and begin to contemplate what is next in this uncertain world.

And while Panenka’s story is at the centre of this novel it is far from the only life on show here. For the true magic of this tale lies within the characters that populate it. Their motivations, their decisions, their complexities and their charm are all tangible. They move gently on your mind and form a community of personalities that bring the novel to life. Each character has made decisions that define them, each clings to things that make them whole, while at the same time wondering if life has more to offer. Each character has a backstory, a time and space within which they exist. Ronan Hession is the master at allowing all his characters, however small they might appear, space and time to breathe.

Panenka has just as much heart and soul as Leonard and Hungry Paul. The tone and message are undeniably different, and this novel has a quiet melancholy that runs throughout. But at the heart of both books is the spirit of humanity, the celebration of what makes each of us tick and the things that drive us forwards each day.

Rachel x

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