This is a book about ordinary people. To be read by ordinary people. But it may well have an extraordinary effect on you. I experienced a similar mood and emotion when I read Rachel Elliott’s Don’t Feed the Bear. Quirky without being outlandish. There’s a frank simplicity about this book that astounds because it dares to be simple. Expect no explosive action and deeply flawed characters. Fiction can take us out of ourselves to explore worlds and scenarios that we could never dream of inhabiting but it can also reassure us that images of ourselves can reside within the pages of a story to entertain and inform.
Leonard and Hungry Paul, (the precise nature of his hunger is never divulged but left to the reader to interpret), are two men in their thirties both living in their respective parental homes. Their lives are unexceptional. Their friendship is solid, cemented by the playing of board games and the exchange of ideas and opinions. They don’t seem to waste time disagreeing. They are gentle, honest people with an abundance of kindness. My feeling was that both existed somewhere on the spectrum and displayed aspects of those associated behaviours.
It’s a story of family and how the members of a family interact, coexist, nurture and support each other and, most importantly are also open with each other. These characters are considerate people who go quietly about their lives without making a song and dance about everything they do. None of them are attention seekers. This book details aspects of everyday events that might not always appear in the chapters of a novel for fear they are deemed simply too ordinary. But that’s part of the charm of this story. That’s not to say that everything is commonplace, I mean, a National Mime Association doesn’t crop up in every town does it? Or have I led too sheltered a life? ;-)
It’s a beautifully observed, yet understated story. Uplifting in a quiet, sustained way. Whilst it does examine aspects of loneliness its two main characters exist and behave with such enviable grace and integrity that you wish you could be them. There is a subtle wit and humour running throughout the book that highlights some of society’s anomalies without seeking to ridicule. It’s a story of observations and analogies.
‘He saw society as a sort of chemistry set, full of potentially explosive ingredients which, if handled correctly could be fascinating and educational, but which was otherwise best kept out of reach of those who did not know what they were doing.’
’In fact, he discovered that he was less critical of people when he allowed them in. People, it turns out, weren’t so bad. At least that was true of some people. And maybe that was the trick: to find the right people; to be able to recognise them and to know how to appreciate them when you do find them.’
There are elements of poignancy in this novel but rarely is the reader encouraged to feel sorry for any of the characters. There is a sense of optimism in the book. Nobody is unpleasant to anyone else. There is maybe one lesser character who tries but his attempts are unsuccessful because no one responds to him. It’s wonderful to have a story that gives credence to the quiet, introverted ones. People behaving decently to each other. People behaving with respect for others. It celebrates those people who feel a little out of sync with the digital/techno/consumerist/materialist/self-aggrandising world offering them a story where they are effectively reading about themselves. They are the heroes. We are the heroes.