Book Review: “Leonard and Hungry Paul” by Rónán Hession (@MumblinDeafRo @Ofmooseandmen @DublinCityofLit @EasternRegional)

Leonard and Hungry Paul (first published by Bluemoose Books, March 2019) by Rónán Hession

Leonard and Hungry Paul tells the charming story of two friends who are kind, generous and content with their tranquil lives. It reminds this reviewer of those hobbits not included in Bilbo’s and Frodo’s adventures.

Not that they would begrudge an uneventful life. Rather, they are simply not enticed, enthralled and even enslaved by the idea of dreaming big, of pursuing fame and glory, of being excellent and extraordinary. Because they don’t feel the need to subscribe to any defined range of expectations, the notion of success – or the lack of it – never enters their mind.

Leonard ghostwrites children’s encyclopaedias and is happy to “play a minor part in someone else’s story rather than being his own star”. Working and living alone, he enjoys spending the evenings at his friend’s house, playing board games and having humours conversations about life’s fascinating facts.

Hungry Paul, who is also in his thirties, lives with his parents. He works a casual shift on those Mondays when the post office needs staff, and volunteers at the local hospital keeping the patients company. To him, every day is fresh in its own way, so there is no need to seek or create change to add to life’s innate variety.

While any “outside busybody” would think the two friends have no “go” in them, the truth is that they are free – and appreciate such freedom – to pursue whatever in life that captivates their attention. In this way they maintain “a lively interest in the wider world, while staying above and apart from what is generally described as current affairs”.

That does not mean they are selfish or indifferent towards those around them. Indeed, the book is more about how they are accepted as who they are, instead of trying to “better” themselves for the sake of being loved. It is about how they experience life’s inevitable changes in their own honest and humble ways.

Perhaps two years of living with a global pandemic have changed our views about life, but Leonard and Hungry Paul was selected as the 2021 One Dublin One Book – and went on to become the most borrowed book in print, digital and audio formats across Ireland in that year – for a reason. In the words of Anne-Marie Kelly, director of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature:

“There is no reference at all to Dublin in the book. In fact the book is ‘signless’ – there are no place names or surnames. All of this was deliberate as the author wanted to draw our attention to the qualities of the characters, and to emphasise kindness, friendship and to celebrate the quiet things in life.”

The book’s universal appeal is its pleasantness. With no dramatic conflicts or crises, no shocking discoveries of dreadful, dark secrets, its leisurely pace and engaging style easily comforts even the most agitated readers. Three cheers to author Rónán Hession (known as blues musician Mumblin’ Deaf Ro) for this rare salutation to ordinary, average people.

Note: This review was originally titled “A celebration of ordinariness” and published under the title “Celebrate the ordinary” by Ranges Trader Star Mail, November 1, 2022, P.23.

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