For the final day of the extended Read Indies 2022, I decided to segue into Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy at 746 books. What to choose? I was prompted by the blurb on the novella I reviewed yesterday. It was written by Ronan Hession, known for his warm-hearted novels, and, with the world in its current state, I thought I’ll have me some of that!

The Panenka is a type of penalty kick, first employed by the Czech player, after whom it is named, to win the 1976 European Championships. In the novel Joseph, a mid-fielder for Seneca FC, decides to use the technique at a similarly high stakes moment. If he scores, his team avoids relegation. If he loses, the opponents win the championship. The fact that he perceives his resultant nickname, Panenka, as an ignominy tells you how things went. This moment of shame isn’t one he can forget and it’s not just a football match he loses.

Blaming himself not only for the loss of the match, but also the resulting downward slide of the team and the town, he retreats into himself, alienating his wife and estranging himself from his daughter. He becomes a loner, socialising only superficially with the blokes in the bar. 25 years later his second chance arrives, when his daughter, now separated from her husband, moves in with her young son. Will Panenka be able to open up at last?

If only life were that simple! When Panenka learns that his debilitating headaches (nicknamed the Iron Mask) are sinister at the same time as his daughter begins to talk about moving away, he determines to keep silent. This continued distancing is likely to enrage his daughter, but then, and here is the delightful irony, she’s not entirely open with others in her own life … patterns repeating. A further final(?) opportunity to establish a meaningful relationship crosses Panenka’s path when he impetuously goes for a haircut. The hairdresser is nursing her own hurts, but the two damaged people recognise each other and a tentative approchement begins.

This is an empathetic tale of ordinary people failing to communicate, making mistakes, and coming to terms with the consequences before being able to move on. For some the process takes longer than others. There is a pervading sense of melancholy, for there are no magic wands, and flawed humans are great at creating their own dramas. Yet with good will and sincere hearts, endings can be better than fragile beginnings or muddled middles. There’s no need to descend into hopelessness … just yet.

Bluemoose Books is a small independent based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, which punches way above its weight in terms of the books it publishes. Benjamin Myer’s novels have won a whole raft of awards with The Gallows Pole winning the 2018 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. And who hasn’t heard of Ronan Hession’s runaway word-of-mouth debut, Leonard and Hungry Paul?

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