Review - Panenka by Rónán Hession

After his brilliant debut with Leonard and Hungry Paul in 2019, Irish writer Rónán Hession has produced another beautifully observed, warm and human story.

Rónán Hession’s novel Panenka is published by Bluemoose.
Rónán Hession’s novel Panenka is published by Bluemoose.

The novel’s main character is a 50-year-old former footballer living with his daughter and grandson in an unnamed, unremarkable small town that could be anywhere in Europe.

His real name is Joseph but as the book’s opening line poignantly attests “for years they had called him Panenka, a name that was his sadness and his story.”

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During his professional playing career, Panenka made a mistake in a crucial match, attempting a manoeuvre in a penalty shoot-out that didn’t work and meant that his team lost.

Panenka’s whole life is defined by this momentary error of judgment and Hession carefully, empathetically explores the idea of how someone can go on living in those circumstances, especially when time is running out for them to fix things.

The drama of football naturally and seamlessly leads to themes of loyalty, unity and connection but this is not specifically a book about the beautiful game.

It is about family, friendship, love, hope and second chances. Hession’s writing is so lyrical, original and utterly authentic.

His turn of phrase is so exquisitely crafted, each sentence is a pearl, nothing is extraneous.

This is every bit as special as Hession’s first novel and will, I feel sure, be equally loved.


published by bluemoose books, £15

5 stars