Book Review

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession

Leonard and Hungry Paul is the story of two friends who ordinarily would remain uncelebrated. It finds a value and specialness in them that is not immediately apparent and prompts the idea that maybe we could learn from the people that we overlook in life. Leonard and Hungry Paul change the world differently to the rest of us: we try and change it by effort and force; they change it by discovering the small things they can do well and offering them to others.


Leonard and Hungry Paul is a lovely book to read, but one that I’ve found to be particularly difficult to review.  I really hope that “better late than never” applies to book blogging…

It’s a novel that features two friends – the titular Leonard and Hungry Paul (no, I don’t know why he’s called that) – and follows them over a short period of time in their lives.  It’s a period that encompasses some unexpected changes for them both, and one thing I particularly liked about the novel is that it’s not about drama.  The changes we share with them are the regular, seemingly mundane happenings – from an outsider’s perspective, at least – that we all experience throughout our lives.  It’s a wonderful, calming novel that doesn’t seek to sensationalise or shock but that allows us to briefly observe the ordinary lives of two quiet and slightly unusual individuals.

Leonard is thirty-something years old and is left feeling bereft after the death of his mother, seemingly unsure of how to cope with his grief.  By day, he ghost-writes children’s encyclopaedias, officially attributed to someone better known than him.  While some might feel a sting from such a situation, wanting to make a name for themselves or at least share in the limelight, Leonard is content in his role.  He enjoys his work and wants nothing more than to inspire children and their innate sense of wonder, hoping that they’ll learn and continue to question the world around them as a result of reading his material.  While undoubtedly clever, Leonard comes across as being a little shy and unsure of himself in social interactions with the majority of people – something that is particularly apparent in his first conversations with the office fire warden, Shelley…

Hungry Paul is a long-time friend of Leonard’s and still lives with his parents.  He seems very well looked after, but not because he needs it – those around him, his mother in particular, do it at least partly from habit and I think because they enjoy it to a degree.   I loved seeing Hungry Paul’s journey in the novel.  He makes an unexpected move towards independence, showing more gumption and get up and go than his family believe he’s capable of.  There’s a sense that he was waiting for the right opportunity, and he finds something that seems very apt if a little unusual. It’s fair to say that Hungry Paul is my favourite character in the novel, and I could quite happily spend more time reading about his exploits, or lack thereof. 

Published by Bluemoose Books, this is a wonderful heart-warming novel that values friendship in its truest sense and that pays tribute to those that often go unnoticed.  Both characters are the completely unassuming types that one finds so rarely in novels, and there’s no sudden transformation into hip and happening young dudes.  They are themselves, and stay true to that – if nothing else, they are entirely comfortable in their own skin, something that’s quite unusual to find.  Told with a warm sense of humour and an appreciation for the everyday, Leonard and Hungry Paul is a joy to read. 

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