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

Book Review: Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession

I have been aware of this book for a long time. It seems that everyone whose bookish opinion I trust has read and worshipped this book. Honestly, the praise has been overwhelming and wholly positive. There is so much love and admiration out there for Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession published by Bluemoose Books.

So why you may ask has it taken me so long to get around to reading it? Well, firstly, the usual and quite boring answer is I have so much stuff to read I haven’t found the time. But the second is, if I am honest I found all that love a bit overwhelming. What if I didn’t feel the same? Would I be the one who missed the magic? Not sure if this is an example of my stubbornness or insecurity but I didn’t want to be the one who didn’t love Leonard and Hungry Paul.

I am here today to tell you I was an idiot. When I finally dived into this book I didn’t come up for air. For 24 hours I was immersed in a quieter, gentler, less judgemental world and I didn’t want to leave. When I started this book it was a ‘read but not review book’, but there is no way I can put this one on the shelf without sharing my thoughts and adding my own small stitch to the blanket of love that is quite rightly wrapped around this book.

This is a novel centred on the friendship of two men; Leonard and Hungry Paul. Both in their thirties, both reserved, unassuming but both equipped with a perception of thought and emotional intelligence that is so often missing in today’s crazy world. Leonard, works as a ‘content supervisor’ for children’s factual books. He has until recently always lived with his mother and is currently mourning her passing. Hungry Paul lives at home, working on a casual basis as a postman. He is close to his parents Peter and Helen and his sister Grace, successful and high achieving, is about to marry. It is the run up to and culmination of the wedding which frames the novel.

This is a novel truly driven by and filled with it’s characters. The plot is the stuff of their hopes, fears and achievements. The novel focuses on their domestic challenges and changes; those things that may seem insignificant, but are in truth the stuff that makes the world go around.

Painted with true care and addition to detail, these are characters that feel so real you could almost touch them. Each character has a depth, a past, opinions and a true motivation, all seamlessly constructed and conveyed. In short here are characters you can believe in. I revelled in the quiet voices of Leonard and Hungry Paul, with their board game evenings, sense of duty and gently harboured dreams. I sympathised with Grace, close to her parents, loving her brother but equally frustrated and worried about his future and how his unwillingness to leave the nest might impact upon her. And the marriage of Helen and Paul was an untold and insightful joy; devoted to their children but still in love with each other, and trying not to lose sight of their own identify as a couple.

Rónán Hession has blessed us with an intensity of writing that is a simple joy. Throughout the prose possesses a targeted accuracy and undeniable reality; words are constructed in such a way that you are pulled into a novel that is truly immersive and authentic. There is a gentle and perceptive humour, threading it’s way like silk throughout the book. At times provoking a wry smile, at others a deep and genuine belly laugh. And for all that humour and reality, there is a bedrock of wisdom. And it was this I appreciated and adored the most.

At a time when it seems that loud voices and grand gestures are the things being lauded and sometimes demanded, this book is a welcome change of pace and perspective. This book embraces, empowers and champions the introvert. It is a celebration of those who truly observe and move gently on the backroads of life. They are no less important, no less relevant and often filled with a perception and vision others have lost.

A true novel of still waters running deep, I can’t help thinking the world might be an easier and more harmonious place if we were all a bit more Leonard and Hungry Paul.

Rachel x