I requested this book for Christmas in Lockdown and finally got down to reading Leonard and Hungry Paul then. This is a book that will take pride of place on my bookshelf for many reasons. This is THE book to read while the world slows down, while the dreadful sadness in the mortality numbers echoes around the world, because when the first page is turned, this author has your undivided attention. Its gentleness and pace is soothing, while the elegant and wise sentences have been crafted by a master. They bring to life an ordinary family with the constant comings and goings, seen through the eyes of two single men who are living their lives in appreciation of each other.
For Leonard, Hungry Paul is his friend, (his only friend fair to say,) and after the death of his mother, it is to Hungry Paul’s family he turns. Their acceptance of his foibles and interest in his life is genuine and permits him to feel at ease, as an only child who has just been orphaned.
This depiction of happy family life, if judged by others, would perhaps not be typical. But to these characters, it is what it is. Weddings to arrange, a retired teacher and her retired loving husband accept their stay-at home son and his lonely friend, enveloping both of them in kindness, board games, TV quiz shows and advice. The main characters’ relationship is easy going, quietly supportive, endless playing board games companionship, without really talking about feelings ever.
Hungry Paul sees society “as a sort of chemistry set, full of potentially explosive ingredients, which if handled correctly could be fascinating and educational, but which was otherwise best kept out of reach of those who did not know what they were doing.” Leonard, the visitor, seems part of the furniture in this domestic bliss, as he escapes the day job of editing for children’s encyclopaedia. His is the love story of the book and we relish the anguish of being the “plus one” while warming to his honest confessions to Shelley.
Sibling rivalry is provided by the bossy, older sister who sees her younger brother as the sunfish, which she chose as her favourite in the aquarium as a child, only because she knew nobody else would ever choose it. Some might describe her as condescendingly kind, though never shy of offering a very opinionated put-down when the occasion arose. She is a worldly, successful business woman about to wed the love of her life, who cannot understand why her brother still lives in the family home.
For me, the reason to read this book is to become engrossed in their lives and the manner in which these two subtly change the lives of others, almost without realising. Hungry Paul’s gentle hospital visits as a volunteer, his postman job with no certainty and his clever phrasing for a local competition all leave one in awe that such a life can be admired, not joked about as would probably happen in real life. It causes you a moment of reflection at how judgemental society can be, when seen through his eyes and he quietly but convincingly elucidates his position to his older sister, without any malice, simply stating the facts with precision yet brutal honesty finishing with “kind truth, gentle truth”.
When it comes down to it, this book made me love the idea of happy families, this ideal, yet slightly cooky version which Rónán Hession offers us. It is time to reminisce on our childhood and family games, the grief of losing a parent, the joy of a good old wedding and there is a happy ending to boot. Now who amongst us doesn’t love a happy ending? His scene setting is done with a master pen-stroke, the characterisation is perfect and I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book this man writes. I absolutely loved this book.
(c) Tina Lawlor Mottram
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Tina Lawlor Mottram was born in Dublin, Ireland. After graduating from Limerick College of Art, she studied to postgraduate level in London then worked in Collins Publishers, HMSO* and also as the Design Manager in the Tower of London, before abandoning it all to teach English in Barcelona. Since then, she has been both English and Spanish teacher in addition to exhibiting as an artist on many funded projects, usually with an environmental twist. Published work includes several stories in Urban Fox books (A Medway Sanctuary, Hauntings and a collection of poetry “When the forevers become”); over 2 years experience as a Community News Correspondent for local paper The Medway Messenger, and “The Tree of Light – working creatively with long-term illness” in 2010. Tina regularly submits stories to online journals. www.serpentinacreations.com.