Review by Mark Santoro, Aspen Hill Library
Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession is a gentle story about two thirty-something, single men who are somewhat lost and late in finding their way in the world. It’s a debut novel for Hession, a popular Irish musician. In an era of discord and increasing public bitterness, the story is a welcome dose of tenderness and hope as it studies the ordinary lives of ordinary men.
Leonard has an unchallenging but secure job, and lived with his mother until her recent death. Despite the cliché of a grown man living with his mother, it was a healthy, mutually agreeable arrangement. Though not the cause of his personal stagnation, his living arrangement symbolizes his fear of moving forward and taking chances, especially socially and professionally.
Hungry Paul also lives at home, with his mother and father. His sister is about to get married and is juggling wedding preparations with her demanding, tech-related career. Hungry Paul doesn’t have a “real” job. He occasionally does on-call, fill-in work for the postal service. He enjoys healthy relationships with his mother, father, and sister. His sister is the most concerned about his lack of personal growth, particularly his dependence on his parents. She also doesn’t want to be responsible for taking care of him when their retirement age parents can no longer support him. His mother is content with his current situation, but reluctantly admits he needs to take more initiative and become independent.
One of the most appealing aspects of the novel is the friendship between Leonard and Hungry Paul. It is, on the surface, a simple friendship, but one with years of depth that helps both men keep their loneliness from dropping into despair. They provide each other with a comfortable, familiar social outlet that’s based on mutual affection, not familial obligation. It’s a friendship that many more ostensibly successful men might envy, given that men’s friendships tend to fade as they age and their obligations grow.
What these two men lack is drive. They’re somewhat lonely, but not tragically so–just sort of stuck. Content, in a way, with where they are, but still yearning for more. It just might take some unexpected events, and a little courage, to prod them forward.
For a more serious, but nevertheless heartwarming story about people finding their way, try Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor Oliphant is quite content with her rigid routine, thank you very much, and she’s even ready for romance, once she actually meets the musician she’s set her heart on. For a look at men’s struggles with loneliness, try Haruki Murakami’s short story collection, Men Without Women.
Find all of these books in the MCPL catalog.