I read Leonard and Hungry Paul over the week of the US Election, while avoiding many news sources and if concentrating has been particularly difficult during 2020 – if the dreaded ‘doomscrolling’ has taken the joy out of reading – I recommend Rónán Hession’s debut as an antidote to this calamitous year. This Leonard and Hungry Paul review celebrates a book that – although published in 2019 – is the perfect read to enjoy, to be soothed by and to luxuriate in this year.
Best friends Leonard and Hungry Paul are going through their own quietly monumental year as the impending wedding of Hungry Paul’s sister Grace and a chance meeting at Leonard’s office threaten to upturn the cosy world of board games and getting by that they have built for themselves. Both still living in their childhood homes, both having things they are heavily ‘in to’ rather than more grown up preoccupations, the question is who is out of step: the rest of the world or the friends?
Once tensions in Hungry Paul and Leonard’s well-ordered lives start to appear, they soon spring up everywhere, with Grace intent on getting parents Helen and Peter to untie the apron springs and take the big holiday they have been promising themselves since Peter retired. Leonard ghostwrites children’s encyclopedias but has a ton of inspiration for a new type of non-fiction book, if only he can get it in front of the right person. Grace is experiencing that no doubt familiar bridal sensation of having to stage manage an entire family into behaving themselves and turning up dressed right, but while she strays close to bridezilla territory at times, her heart, like that of all the characters, remains in the right place. She just needs a – gentle, of course – nudge to remember.
While the outside world at times this year was too much of a mess to fully contemplate, Leonard and Hungry Paul’s was a treat to spend time in. The writing is full of great lines like taking a die from another board game to play Yahtzee being ‘the board game equivalent of cannibalism,’ or Leonard recognising that:
…nothing made him feel lonelier these days than the thought of spending time in the company of extroverts.
There are also delightfully surreal moments, such as Hungry Paul’s job interview with a theatre company, or entrance into a slogan competition. There are never any place names mentioned, so this could be where you are, or not. It could be happening now, or just a few years ago. You have certainly met people like Hungry Paul or Leonard, maybe worked with them, or went to school together and every now and then thought, ‘I wonder how they are getting on?’ Rónán Hession’s book is a lesson in noticing those around us that might not always stand out from the crowd but who make the world better by being in it.
The more he separated himself from others, the more they became unfathomable and perplexing. The distance just made him lose perspective… In fact, he had discovered he was less critical of people when he allowed them in. People, it turns out, weren’t so bad. At least that was true of some people. And maybe that was the trick: to find the right people; to be able to recognise them and to know how to appreciate them when you do find them.
Leonard and Hungry Paul was one of my favourite books of the year and one I would recommend to anyone struggling with the events of 2020. What books have comforted you this year? Let me know in the comments below. And if you need any help deciding what to read after Leonard and Hungry Paul, here are 10 long books or 10 short books that might entertain.