When I finish a book that I plan to review here I create a draft post so that I remember to review it, and sometimes I write a few words so I remember my impressions. When I opened up this draft to work on the review, I'd written one word: Magic.
If you've read Ronan Hession's debut novel, Leonard and Hungry Paul then you'll know about his beautiful writing and ability to create wonderful, quiet characters who feel so incredibly real that they could be someone you know. If you haven't read it, please do get yourself a copy - it is entirely brilliant and very soothing for the soul. Panenka is a very different story, but it has the same lovely feel to it, and very much transports you to the location in which the story takes place.
The title character, Panenka, is a slightly older than middle aged man living with his grown up daughter and her son when the story starts. He is a surrounded by legend in his hometown, where he once played for the local football team and was involved in an historic moment the reverberations of which have affected his life and his family ever since. Throughout the book this legacy follows him and colours all of his relationships and the people who surround him. It's a very quiet story about relationships really - about Panenka's (whose real name is Joseph. Panenka is a nickname linked to his footballing career) relationship with his grandson, about how he rebuilds his relationship with his daughter, about her relationship with her husband, and how relationships come together and fall apart.
The book begins with pain. Panenka is experiencing a facial paralysis that he calls 'the iron mask', and the reasons for which become clear as the story progresses. I loved the way that the book meditates on all sorts of things, from ageing and illness to the way that fame or notoriety can affect people's lives long after the event for which they're known has passed. Panenka himself is a very quiet man, spending his days working at a mysterious job (we find out what it is he does right at the very end of the book - until then nobody seems to know), his afternoons with his grandson and his evenings often having quiet drinks with a group of misfits at his son in law's bar. There is a quiet acceptance which runs through all of the events of the book, and I felt that as a younger man Panenka must have been quite different for situations to have manifested themselves the way that they did. And that's one of the beautiful things about this book - you find yourself wondering about the characters before and after the moments that you find them in throughout this story. I cared about them and felt invested in them and wanted to know what happened next, and in the end although this isn't necessarily a happy story, it isn't a sad one either, although the subject matter means that it probably should be.
Ronan Hession is a beautiful writer and his books are all the more effective for the lack of drama they contain. Leonard and Hungry Paul has often been called a 'quiet novel' and Panenka follows suit in tone if not in subject. It's out in May from Bluemoose Books and you can pre-order it (and get yourself a copy of Leonard and Hungry Paul while you're there!) here.
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