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Leonard and Hungry Paul
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Republic of Consciousness Prize > 2020 RoC longlist: Leonard and Hungry Paul

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message 1: by Paul (last edited Jan 25, 2020 11:31AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession (Bluemoose Books)
http://www.bluemoosebooks.com/books/l...

from the judges:

Books this charming and gentle are rarely also as engaging; the power Hession wrings out of such ordinary situations is almost subversive. Leonard and Hungry Paul manages to find a voice for many things that are only thought. Bluemoose Books continue to hit their targets with unerring accuracy, and the book is soon to be published by Melville House in the US.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments Based on reviews from Neil and Gumble's Yard this had looked very interesting but not a typical RoC book.

The judges hint why they believe it is though I think in their "almost subversive" comments, and the "voice for many things that are only thought".

Must admit my literary bias is towards the unlikable narrator and dark/misanthropic, so will be interested what I make of this.


WndyJW | 4647 comments I adored this book. Ronan Hession managed to write a heartwarming, gentle book that was not too precious. That’s wonderful news about Melville!


message 4: by Neil (last edited Jan 26, 2020 12:36AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 1869 comments I know I am in a minority, but I really didn’t get on well with this book. There were too many sitcom set scenes (mainly the IT help guy) and other scenes that seemed to be there just to be included in the movie version.

I much preferred Patience for a book about finding delight in the ordinary things of life.


message 5: by Ang (last edited Jan 26, 2020 01:56AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Paul wrote: "from the judges:

Books this charming and gentle are rarely also as engaging..."


I'm a third through it and not finding it engaging at all. The author seems to be intending to provide characters who are interesting and unique. I don't find the characters interesting or even that unique. Grace is a caricature of the eldest child. Leonard and Paul are classic nerds. (I have nothing against nerds!)

I think part of the problem for me is the writing style - almost completely expository and I find myself thinking "Who cares?".


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments Mixed views halfway through.

I think what it does it does very well. And the author’s argument that literature doesn’t talk enough about niceness is well made, and I am certainly guilty of liking down-lit a bit too much.

Oddly not sure how filmic it is though as, as Ang says, a lot of this is exposition. Or as the judges say finding a voice for things that are often thought - to which the solution is simply having the characters saying them out loud.

So far I am not quite sure Leonard or Paul stack up as coherent characters either. At times they seem oddly silly and at others oddly wise.

But pleased to see it here and a book I would recommend to friends (and my kids) which isn’t typically the case for the RoC.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments Ah I see the film thing now as I am starting to hit the set piece comedy sketches eg the tin of Roses in the supermarket.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5276 comments That’s a low point.


message 10: by Ang (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ang | 1685 comments It might make a good sitcom but you'd need really good comedians to make it funny.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5276 comments This is a very enjoyable and well written book – full of pithy but non-cruel observations:

Helen and Barbara entered into what Peter called “nattering”, a seamless narrative of personal stories, asides and value judgements, delivered in a point/counterpoint style with each woman taking her turn on the mic, with a seamlessness known only to middle-aged women and gangsta rappers.


On a simplistic level it could be seen as “up-lit” but it avoids the tropes that seem to have developed in that genre (heavy reliance on co-incidence, sympathetically portrayed but unreliable narrators, and late revelations which are largely down to that unreliability).

Leonard and Hungry Paul are not portrayed as flawed or unreliable – on the contrary they have a clarity of understanding due to their clutter-free attitude to life.

Two of the set piece conversations in the novel feature them using that clarity to gently unpick the pretentions, attitudes and assumptions of characters dear to them (Leonard to his work colleague and her approach to testing him in their nascent relationship; Paul to Grace about her self-adopted role in the family) – perhaps only weakened by both including a man explaining something to a woman.

The limited plot is mercifully free of coincidence or twists – if I had a criticism it would be that some scenes (an out-of-date chocolates incident and a IT-helpdesk colleague) seem to be lifted from a sit-com.

The book is perhaps more similar to Toby Litt’s brilliant “Patience”. It is a book which celebrates life and mundanity, gentleness and friendship.

As such it acts as a perfect anecdote to the tendency to see unpleasantness as somehow more literary; as one wedding guest says of an attendee on a creative writing course she ran:

She was [in her stories] always using phrases like “There was an empty chair by the door”. You know, trying to be depressing, because she thought it was more writerly.


Highly recommended when you want a reminder that good writing can also celebrate goodness.


message 12: by Ella (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
I hope it's good b/c I've got a long wait for it from the library.


WndyJW | 4647 comments Patience was the better book, but it was quite sad, Leonard and Hungry Paul was a respite for me from the unrelenting ugliness of the Trump era. I could do with a book like this every 6 months or so.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5276 comments For me it was a respite from some bleak books I read over late 2019, early 2020 mainly it has to be said assuming some might get RoC longlisted. A number were decidedly down-lit.

This book lacks I think most of us, even who liked it, would agree the literary merit of Patience. But it came at the right time for me. I am surprised to see it RoC listed but pleasantly so.


message 15: by Ella (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
Gumble's Yard wrote: "For me it was a respite from some bleak books I read over late 2019, early 2020 mainly it has to be said assuming some might get RoC longlisted. A number were decidedly down-lit.

This book lacks ..."


I do think a LOT of people are in need of positivity (is that a word) these days. Even when I'm not aware of being in need, I find myself very touched by the most basic decency and good these days, and it reminds me to take time out from the muck.


WndyJW | 4647 comments I call books like Leonard and Hungry Paul Sun-lit, I call everything else I read Literature because none of it is happy. Drama, dysfunction, and sadness make for a better story.


message 17: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments If people haven’t seen it this is a lovely interview with the author about why he wrote it - in part as a counter argument to the first line of Anna Karenina and in part “as a tribute to all the kindness I have experienced in my life.”

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bo...


message 18: by Robert (last edited Jan 26, 2020 11:51AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Robert | 1974 comments My review:

https://thebobsphere.wordpress.com/20...

There's something touching about this book. The majority of literature is depressing so it's good to read a novel which makes the reader smile. Leonard and Hungry Paul is deceptively simple as Hession does go into the psyche of these two characters. Saying that maybe the reason why I liekd this book so much is because i saw a lot myself in both Leoonard and Paul - Like Leonard I had the same confusions about relationships and like Paul it took a long time for me to get an actual job ( I never sponged off my parents though) Also Sunday was board game night at my family's house - though it revolved around Scrabble, Monopoly, Risk and Trivial Pursuit.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5276 comments To be honest this book has I think already done well - it seems to be on lots of book of the year lists including some by people I respect (Wendy and Robert being two examples who drew me to the book), Radio 2 Bookgroup, Irish An Post Book of the year shortlist etc - but it’s really nice to see it here.

I loved this quote ....


Writers are trained to seek out drama and conflict and motivation, which means that families in books tend to have a default setting of “dysfunctional”. But is Tolstoy correct? Happy families – like the families of Leonard and Hungry Paul – are full of idiosyncrasy. Families are innately interesting in that the individual members undergo constant change and with that, a recalibration in their relationships, all the while purporting to belong to a stable social unit that they struggle to hold together. That is what goes on in this novel.

The forces of attraction and separation give the characters plenty to think and talk about, but what makes it interesting for me from a writing perspective is that they are trying to make it work. It is their commitment to each other that raises the stakes.

While this is a positive book, it is not championing unthinking positivity. The world is a big bad place and there are plenty of causes for concern – as Leonard himself reflects, the true tale of history is worryingly short of comeuppance. It is, however, a book that shows faith in human nature and which honours, in its own way, all that is at once both mundane and special. I would hope that Count Tolstoy, in his wisdom, would forgive a debut author for attempting that much.


Robert | 1974 comments That's fantastic

and thanks!!


Robert | 1974 comments Although I seek out feel good books - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The 100 year old man who climbed out of his window or The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, I always feel that they are condescending in some way - Leonard and Paul never does that. The only author - to my knowledge - who manages this is Nick Hornby and that's only with High Fidelity. Another parallel is that both books are blokey but manage to attract a female readership ( I did see one book blogger on toxic twitter complain that L & HP was too masculine and had to abandon it - the person did not say the book's title but made it obvious that it was L & HP)


message 22: by Val (new)

Val | 1016 comments This is the only ROC book listed in my library catalogue. I have a reservation on it, but there is a queue. At least that shows people are reading it.


message 23: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments Robert wrote: "My review:

https://thebobsphere.wordpress.com/20..."


You win the prize for best closing line to a review of this book :-)


message 24: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments The opening line of the book is brilliant:

Leonard was raised alone by his mother with cheerfully concealed difficultly, his father having died tragically during childbirth.

But it led me to expect a very different book - does Leonard's mother have a secret dark side/guilty secret that is only really hinted at here?


WndyJW | 4647 comments As always a lovely review, Robert.


Robert | 1974 comments Paul wrote: "Robert wrote: "My review:

https://thebobsphere.wordpress.com/20..."

You win the prize for best closing line to a review of this book :-)"


:)


Robert | 1974 comments WndyJW wrote: "As always a lovely review, Robert."

Thanks!


message 28: by Ella (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
I've said it before, but Robert is a great champion of books without being someone who just raves about everything. And he makes me excited to read books I've never heard of fairly often. Sometimes I pull one down and reread it.

Wendy - can you speak to my 93-yr-old mother? I want to move in w/ her and she won't let me. (I want to help her, but I think she fears I will steal her car keys and hide her purse or something...)


WndyJW | 4647 comments Ella, give her Leonard and Hungry Paul!


Robert | 1974 comments Ella wrote: "I've said it before, but Robert is a great champion of books without being someone who just raves about everything. And he makes me excited to read books I've never heard of fairly often. Sometimes..."

Awww thanks!!!!


message 31: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments Ella wrote: "I've said it before, but Robert is a great champion of books without being someone who just raves about everything. And he makes me excited to read books I've never heard of fairly often. Sometimes..."

Agreed and his latest review has sold me on Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin


message 32: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments Anyone debating whether to take this up - or wanting a taster- the prize have published the first chapter on their website:

https://www.republicofconsciousness.c...

They also say (on twitter) this has the best first line on the list - which I'd agree with, except (as I mentioned before) the book then doesn't do anything with this. Did anyone get what the first line meant given what comes after?

Leonard was raised by his mother alone with cheerfully concealed difficulty, his father having died tragically during childbirth


Robert | 1974 comments Paul wrote: "Ella wrote: "I've said it before, but Robert is a great champion of books without being someone who just raves about everything. And he makes me excited to read books I've never heard of fairly oft..."

That's great :)


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5276 comments I must admit I had seen it as a clever/funny way of introducing the widowed mother/son relationship which is crucial to Leonard's character and the plot of the book (given her death) and was a little nonplussed by your review.


message 35: by Neil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 1869 comments I agree with GY on the reasoning. For me, the more interesting question is why Hungry Paul has the Hungry part of his name and, even more intriguing, why does no one in the book refer to him by name, either just Paul or the full Hungry Paul (he is always he, him, your brother...)?


message 36: by Paul (last edited Feb 03, 2020 04:29AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments How does a father die in childbirth other than e.g. getting brained by an annoyed mother (see e.g. fatherhood where the husband touches the wife on her shoulder in reassurance - 'she thanked me and then asked me not to do it again' or words to that effect). It is quite common in vampire movies/books for example where the mother is the vampire.

So I took this as a hint of something slightly dark in Leonard's mother's history which he failed to pick up in his naivety, or that he actually does have (unknown to him) a living but absent father. But that didn't seem to be supported by the rest of the book at all in either content or tone. Or perhaps it is left to the reader to realise all is not as Leonard thinks?

E,g, the 'your father died in your childbirth' idea is key to Fletch, Too where - strangely enough - the father turns out not to have died, and reappears.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5276 comments I refer to my previous answer.

But the shoulder reference in Fatherhood is great as is the flannel reference.


message 38: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments The flannel one is a great line!

But I am still unclear. Did you take that as a throwaway comic line (it does seem to be one some comedians use) or having any meaning to it? I spent the first 50 pages or so assuming there was something much deeper going on - and I'm still unsure whether there was.

Problem I had with the book was that the first line was so much better than all the lines that followed - it felt like it belonged to a different book.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5276 comments Fatherhood is I currently heading for top of my rankings.

Throwaway comic line


WndyJW | 4647 comments I had the same two questions, Paul, but decided it was a clever way of saying Leonard’s father died before or shortly after he was born. I was far more curious about Hungry Paul and, again, decided for myself that it was a family nickname that fell from use.


message 41: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 2629 comments Why the sunfish, incidentally? I'm guessing that's what it is on the cover.


message 42: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments From the author (referring to the book)

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bo...

I look at Hungry Paul through the eyes of his mother, Helen, who sees him as the sunfish in an aquarium: loving him, knowing that he might otherwise go unloved


message 43: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8560 comments Also his reaction at the time to the design

https://twitter.com/i/web/status/1030...


message 44: by Ella (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
Argh - I made a ton of notes and deleted the folder accidentally. I'm going to see if it got backed up accidentally (unlikely, but I'm trying to be an optimist.)


message 45: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 2629 comments Wrong thread?


message 46: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 2629 comments Paul wrote: "From the author (referring to the book)

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bo...

I look at Hungry Paul through the e..."


This is sweet. I didn't realise people didn't like/ignored sunfish. They are distinctive and interesting for it.


message 47: by Ella (last edited Feb 08, 2020 05:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
Antonomasia wrote: "Wrong thread?" No - your note about the sunfish reminded me that I'd made a note about that when I read this, then I could't find the folder. My thought was completely different from the intentions of the author/publisher though, so no great loss on that note.

Edit: My notes are gone, but I did think the scene of Hungry Paul's father thinking about his wife and her determination to make that ugly sunfish her favorite (because he knew that she knew that it was nobody else's fav) was lovely. I thought their whole relationship was pretty awesome - including the tips she gave to her daughter about keeping a marriage in order.


message 48: by Ella (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
So no magic elves live in my computer - my notes are gone. Off the top of my head, things I loved about the book included:

* the dry humor, so understated and so funny - lines like Leonard having few friends, but lots of ideas; the Yahtzee game description - and the lines about how they imagined it being from POWs (then casually noted that it was created in Canada & marketed by Americans), catching up on all the "latest developments in ancient history," the shop assistant going off to 'finish his adolescence" etc etc.

* the decency of almost everyone, especially of Leonard and Paul - they were just so decent and kind and generous with each other, but never in a maudlin or stupid or manipulative sort of way. You'd see it when one got knocked down a peg and how the other would try to lift him back up rather than reveling in the knocking down. Sounds normal, but it's more rare than I'd like to see between male characters (even friends) in books.

* The one quote I will need to find again someday, but it was about Grace and her former loves. Something like "It may be that if you truly want to open someone's heart, you need to break it open." (paraphrasing wildly in all of these.)

* I adored the recommendations from her mother to Grace on keeping a marriage/relationship going. rather than the typical "it's hard work" bit, she truly laid out a realistic and positive image of growing older with someone you love for a long time. And I was taken by her note that your partner even needs to take precedence over the children at times or you grow into two caregivers/co-parents rather than a couple. It should be printed up and handed out to everyone!

* I loved that Leonard wasn't an idiot w/ women when we wanted one. You'd think these two are somehow way too far from whatever "normal" is supposed to be, but he was fully able to be himself and still get a woman he admired. He'd scoped the situation quite realistically, I think. And it was still a bit of a nailbiter for me.

* Finally, I thought Paul's talk over Easter, before the wedding, with Grace was lovely and exactly what I Paul would do. I don't know Paul, but somehow I knew he had this in him, and he did.

Those are the bits I remember best.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5276 comments Everything you said.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 526 comments This was a sweet book. I enjoyed it. Nice that everyone was, well, nice.


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