“We are never entirely outside of life’s choices; everything leads somewhere.”
Leonard and Hungry Paul, by Rónán Hession, is a novel of wry intelligence wrapped around the quiet rhythms of ordinary lives as they are being lived. The apparent simplicity of the narrative carries the reader through moments of insight as characters speak from their hearts on everyday dilemmas. The rarity of such truthfulness in conversation and the skill with which thoughts and feelings are conveyed make this a singular read.
The eponymous protagonists are men in their early thirties still living in their childhood homes. Leonard’s mother has recently died leaving him alone in trying to work out how to cope with his quiet grief. His work – writing text for boilerplate encyclopedias marketed for children, which will be published under a better known author’s name – fills his day but offers limited satisfaction. He recognises his social awkwardness, especially when he becomes attracted to the office fire marshal, Shelley. He has little idea how he is expected to interact in potentially romantic situations.
Hungry Paul lives with his recently retired parents. His busy and successful sister, Grace, is planning her wedding and urges her parents to make the most of their upcoming freedom while they still have their health. Grace would like to see Hungry Paul take more personal responsibility. His occasional work as a postman leaves him financially dependent and his acceptance of this frustrates Grace. Their mother is more phlegmatic but also wonders how her unadventurous son would cope if left to look after himself.
“The kids lives are their own. From day one you are handing it back to them bit by bit, until they move on”
Leonard and Hungry Paul are best friends. They get together on regular evenings during the week to play board games and discuss topics of mutual interest. They share the minutiae of their lives in the knowledge that the other will accept whatever has happened and move forward without assigning blame. They observe the world around them and ponder how best to integrate when this is necessary.
Other people’s crises provide moments of clarity. Leonard’s burgeoning relationship with Shelley plays out with unusual honesty. He voices the risks and fears encountered when two strangers tentatively open up to each other – their expectations and the likelihood of misinterpretations. Grace’s wish for her brother to be more independent provides a gently poignant yet masterfully rendered understanding of family dynamics. The asides on marriage cut to the heart of why the institution can sometimes succeed.
This is a gentle yet penetrating tale of the many guises of love and friendship that pierces the too often impenetrable veneer most will apply to protect themselves from others perceived judgement. Leonard and Hungry Paul may appear socially awkward but they offer a deeper understanding of relationships than many who remain unaware that their confidence in a crowd is shallow and blinkered.
A sterling read, a rare achievement, recommended without reservation.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bluemoose.