John Steinbeck is one of the most celebrated authors of the 20th century. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, the works of his that first spring to the minds of most would be Of Mice & Men and the devastatingly brilliant The Grapes of Wrath. After becoming a mainstay of school syllabuses across the world, thousands have fallen in love with his quintessentially simple writing style, and his ability to weave out the lives of real working people cast in the shadow of The Great Depression. With a stunning eye for small details within nature and people, few have been able to depict the downfall of The American Dream in a way which is as equally touching as it is disturbing. We tend to remember him for his tragic endings - George being forced to kill his only friend, or Rose of Sharon breastfeeding a starving man in a barn – but little is said about Tortilla Flat, the novel with preceded Of Mice & Men and one of the most understated and completely joyous masterpieces of literary history.
2020 has been a year where a lot of us have had to learn how to spend time with just ourselves. Over lockdowns and restrictions, we’ve had to learn new ways to be productive as well as new ways to not be productive. We’ve had to learn how to take things slowly amidst so much uncertainty. Above all, we’ve had to learn to be kind to ourselves. And it’s in this strange and quiet environment that Rónán Hession’s Leonard and Hungry Paul has come into its own. In what is astoundingly his first novel, Hession offers us a maturely crafted and heart-warming story of ordinary people doing their best. With a beautifully written focus on life’s littlest details, the book feels like a guide in how to simply exist and enjoy the present moment around you, even if that just means sitting in a park or playing a boardgame.