Leonard and Hungry Paul, by Ronan Hession (May 2020)
BPS Bookclub May 2020
Leonard and Hungry Paul, by Ronan Hession
Ronan Hession, aka Mumblin’Deaf Ro the musician, has talked how he ‘deliberately mutes’ some of the specific details of life in order to focus on the ‘humanness’ of this story. He describes his story like a portrait, rather than a landscape painting. Perhaps this is why this book resonated so perfectly for our reading this month, as it feels like we are all living through a period where a lot of our everyday background ‘noise’ of life is muted and we are forced to be introverted, to study our own circumstances and ignore the externals.
It has been difficult during lockdown for some people to concentrate on their reading, or to find the right level, somewhere between Hello magazine and Albert Camus’ The Plague. This short novel seems to hit it about right, an enjoyable, often very funny narrative with no shocks or surprises, but yet with emotional depth and proper reflection on character. Indeed our reactions to those key characters was very engaged, we either rolled our eyes at their lack of drive, or felt their awkwardness, or secretly enjoyed their rejection of others’ disapproval … whatever your personal reaction, everybody felt the connection and felt the characters strongly. So that’s a win for the writer in my book. Hession himself talked about the spectrum of families “struggling between supporting, and enabling”.
Leonard and Hungry Paul ( it seems impossible to just call him Paul) are arguably not misfits, or underdogs, perhaps not even as ‘dysfunctional’ as Eleanor Oliphant. They are happy in their own skin, and just more meek and gentle than society normally requires. Kindness to others is a recurring theme, through simple gestures such as the birdfeeder, and holding hands silently with random patients in hospital.
For a story with relatively few characters, even the peripheral characters were well drawn - Grace, the responsible sister, Shelley - the responsible single parent …each one painted in terms of their relationship to Leonard or Hungry Paul, and what that reveals.
No massive dramatic arcs, no shock twists ( yes, the happy wedding did just go ahead!) … perhaps there were moments which were unbelievable, and the ending was just a little too Richard Curtis … but there was enough humour and cleverness throughout to counterbalance the weakness. I think the overwhelming reaction was positive and we will look forward to reading whatever he produces next.