This week, I want to say a little about this book, which I just read. But I don’t want this piece to be just about the book because I realise that most of you won’t have read it yet and you like to come here for a little read on a Sunday and a piece just about a book that you haven’t read might not mean all that much to you.
So I’ll try to make this about something a little more than the book. Perhaps I’ll make it about how, if we are lucky enough to have them, there are few things more important in life than family and friends and love. Maybe something like that will be enough to keep you reading until the end. Let’s see.
‘Leonard and Hungry Paul’ was last month’s Castlebar Library Book Club selection. After some of our customary and always-entertaining floundering around in search of a book to read, Darina quietly mentioned that she had read this one and had enjoyed it. We pounced on it, as we do sometimes when decisions are elusive, and off we popped.
I really, really like this book. It’s about the two good friends of the title, both of whom lead quiet, clearly defined lives. Hungry Paul lives within the bosom of his family. Leonard, on account of a recent bereavement, lives alone. Both men are intelligent and socially challenged to a high degree. They are very good friends.
But, really, for me at least, the book is mostly about connections. Hungry Paul is embedded in his family, who go about their business with an unstated but tangible loving. Leonard, without meaningful connections outside of Hungry Paul's family, makes a leap of faith to try to find what he needs.
Rónán Hession has written the book with a wry understatement that is worthy of his two protagonists. Like his characters, every action, every sentence, comes across as considered and well-observed. Time and again, while reading, I would remark to myself on the simple truth in every exchange, in every development. Time and again, I would smile at the aptness of the writer’s observations, at how convincing every character was.
Reading a little online and recalling the comments of my fellow book club attendees, as we discussed the book in various little windows on our computers and phones, one recurring theme was how little actually happened in the book, how low key it all was.
I beg to differ.
For me, ‘everything’ happens in the book. Although the landscape of the narrative may be small and the cast may not be of millions, everything happens. Both Hungry Paul and Leonard face their challenges with low key valour, sometimes failing but mostly succeeding. Their supporting cast of family and workmates are all lovingly drawn. Each of them rotate slowly on the pages to ultimately provide a full 3D account of themselves and of their own need for connection.
It’s a rather obvious point but I reckon that it needs making. In these times of lockdown and isolation, the importance of connection is more clearly in focus than ever. Our times seem to further heighten the relevance and truth of this book. As a people, we need our little connections and our larger connections too. The absence of them may not finish us off in a rapid and dramatic fashion but it may drain us down, over time, making us pale and fearful of the light.
I would recommend Leonard and Hungry Paul to you and I will look forward to reading more from Ronan in the, hopefully, near future.
The take away from it, for me, is something like this: value the connections you have, nurture them and appreciate them and, if you don’t have as many connections as you feel that you need, as soon as you are able, venture out into the world and make yourself a few more.
There you have it. It really was just a book review this week. Sorry about that. I'll try to do better next time.
Until then, stay well.
Waiting for Godot was, famously, as you will well know, referred to as a play where “nothing happens in two acts.” (Although I’ve read it several times I’ve never actually reviewed it. I mean what could you write? “Bloody marvellous. Nuff said.”) I did recently, however, finish and review fellow Irishperson Eimear McBride’s Strange Hotel which I couldn’t resist describing as a novella where “nothing happens in several chapters.” Personally I could never get into nothing—that whole Zen thing went whoosh! right over my head and off down the street—but I do appreciate nothing much if done right. And it’s hard to do right because when a car’s zooming along the motorway you hardly notice anything but when you’re stuck in a traffic jam you have time to take in everything. You can do a lot with nothing much. Beckett was, of course, the master but there’ve been others like Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine where the entire “action” involves a man riding an escalator or Guðmundur Andri Thorsson’s And the Wind Sees All where each chapter describes what one of the villagers is doing and thinking as the local choirmaster cycles past on her bike and so the actual “action” in the novel takes about as long as that escalator ride. Leonard and Hungry Paul does appeal (and not merely from your comments) but at over 400 pages I would struggle with it at the moment. I’m looking for books a quarter of that length right now and I’m not reading them quickly. Such is the state of the brain at the moment. We bend to its will.
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