A review by booklane
Panenka, by Rónán Hession

challenging emotional hopeful inspiring sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


  iam not sure I can do justice to Panenka,. It seems such a simple novel with “unassuming” characters and yet the beauty, fullness and depth of every single moment took my breath away and moved me. One of characters in this novel is simply beautiful because she makes people feel good and interesting, and in a nutshell this is what Hession strives to do. It feels like every scene is surrounded by an aura, and this is because everything and everyone is given absolute dignity, uniqueness and complexity,

Panenka is a divorced middle-aged man and a former football player for the local team, Seneca. He has become a scapegoat for its lost glory and for the decay of the town. To crown his failure, he symbolically takes the name of the penalty kick he could not score. He lives with his once estranged daughter and grandson, “a precious and undeserved chance to experience a family from the inside again”. Now he is dealing with blinding headaches, which he names his Iron Mask, a clear sign that “his body was trying to make him understand that it was betraying him”, and the diagnosis seems to go along with the pattern of bad luck that has characterised his life. But quiet Panenka does not want to impose on his family and reveal what is at stake. Can a sudden meeting disrupt the bleak narrative of his life?

A redeeming novel that focuses on allowing stories to be rewritten even in dark or uncertain moments. It also focuses on affinities with “people who cultivate what’s good in us”, on quiet negotiations and states of grace which are to be relished only when you know what it means to feel broken. Relationships are pondered and meditated upon and ultimately rewritten in a novel that breaks conventions and expectations of romantic love and family ties in the name of “free-standing wild-card arrangements”. In a troubled twenty-first century #RonanHession’s lessons are pure gold.

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