Maria Dickenson on reading Leonard and Hungry Paul… One Dublin One Book

It has been a joy to watch the progress of Leonard and Hungry Paul through our bookshops. Some books arrive like explosions, with huge fanfare and a maelstrom of sales – and then disappear leaving nothing but a ringing in the ears. Others enter more quietly but stay with us for a lot longer, making much more impact in the fullness of time. This one, appropriately enough given its gentle protagonists, introduced itself politely to our shelves in 2019 where it charmed reader after reader and gathered an impressive array of award nominations throughout 2020. Word of mouth has a huge influence with a book like this, and while we haven’t been able to press Leonard and Hungry Paul into the hands of our customers and friends over the last twelve months, social media has filled that gap – every few days I see a tweet from a new convert celebrating its kindness, humour and warmth. To read Leonard and Hungry Paul is to join a club that celebrates life’s gentle people.  That it has been chosen as the One Dublin One Book choice for 2021 is a joyful thing.

this is not a book where the plot takes centre stage – the gentle essence of the characters is its driving force

Leonard and Hungry Paul (why Hungry? We’re never told, but that’s part of the charm) is a portrait of two gentle and unassuming men: a generous, whimsical and warm hearted look at lives that rarely draw the novelist’s eye. Leonard, bereaved after the recent loss of his mother, helps to produce rather bland children’s encyclopaedias but longs to create a history book that will really speak to children and fire their imaginations. Hungry Paul lives harmoniously at home with his parents, occasionally working as a stand-in postman but mostly just being content with his lot; obliviously achieving the kind of living-in-the-moment mindfulness that gurus would strive for. They play boardgames, sometimes they sit in silence, they are comfortable in each other’s worlds. A family wedding is on the horizon and Leonard may be on the verge of his first romance, but this is not a book where the plot takes centre stage – the gentle essence of the characters is its driving force.

It sat patiently in my TBR pile last year while I roared through the loudest books I could find to distract me from the world outside.

I must confess I was late to the party in reading Leonard and Paul but sometimes a book just waits until you really need it.  It sat patiently in my TBR pile last year while I roared through the loudest books I could find to distract me from the world outside. Reading it this month has distilled beautifully what we have come the realise during this long year of lockdowns: that what we miss and value the most is companionship, the simplest pleasures of family and friends, the ordinary, quiet goodness of life when we cut out all the noise.

You can order your copy of Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession on our website and find out more about One Dublin One Book events here.

Maria manages the Dubray bookshops, and has worked in various bookish roles during her career including buying, sales and librarianship. With two small kids she is enjoying exploring the world of picture books and early readers, but loves to read widely whenever she gets the opportunity!

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