Needlemouse by Jane O’Connor
Publishing Date: 27th June 2019
Source: Received from the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!
Number of pages: 352
Genre: General Fiction
Time to come out of hibernation…
Sylvia Penton has been hibernating for years, it’s no wonder she’s a little prickly…
Sylvia lives alone, dedicating herself to her job at the local university. On weekends, she helps out at a local hedgehog sanctuary because it gives her something to talk about on Mondays – and it makes people think she’s nicer than she is.
Only Sylvia has a secret: she’s been in love with her boss, Professor Lomax, for over a decade now, and she’s sure he’s just waiting for the right time to leave his wife. Meanwhile she stores every crumb of his affection and covertly makes trouble for anyone she feels gets in his way.
But when a bright new PhD candidate catches the Professor’s eye, Sylvia’s dreams of the fairy tale ending she has craved for so long, are soon in tatters, driving her to increasingly desperate measures and an uncertain future.
Sylvia might have been sleep walking through her life but things are about to change now she’s woken up…
A quirky, charming uplifting novel perfect for fans of Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Sarah Haywood’s The Cactus. The feelgood bestseller about unrequited love, loneliness and the redemptive qualities of hedgehogs featuring the most unlikely heroine of 2019.
Sylvia is 52 years old, a spinster and works at the university as a PA to Professor of Educational Psychology Carl Lomax. She’s been working for him for 15 years already, in this time unrequitedly in love with him, patiently waiting for him to finally leave his wife so they can be together. When it finally happens she’s sure it’s only a matter of time for them to get married – well, he takes her to lunch, and he never forgets her birthday, right? The trouble starts with Prof’s new student, Lola, but Sylvia isn’t afraid of a bit of manipulation to remove the obstacles in her way to happiness. But then something happens, and then she falls out with her sister over an old secret that never should see the light of a day and the only thing that she has is the hedgehog sanctuary where she volunteers. Will she be able to eventually come out of her comfort zones, to see reality how it is, to open herself up?
Jane O’Connor has done a great job with Sylvia’s character. Chances are, when you first meet her, you’re not going to like her. She is spiteful, unhappy, unfriendly, hell, she doesn’t like her own niece, and the only person she adores is her boss, Prof Carl Lomax and she would do anything for him. She collects all his small signs and gestures thinking he has the same feelings to her as she has for him – she’s simply in unrequited love with him but she refuses to accept this fact, really she borders on being a stalker. She volunteers at the hedgehog sanctuary because it gives her something to do on the weekends and because it makes her appear nicer to others. And much like hedgehogs, she has been hibernating for years, almost delusional about Lomax, always finding an excuse for his behaviour, her social life non – existent (she was out only when her sister Millie insisted on it).
But. The author, in a brilliant way, reveals Sylvia’s story, all the troubles and traumas she has experienced in her life and that have turned her into person she is today, and really, you’re going to quickly begin to understand Sylvia and like her, feel a growing sympathy for her loneliness, for her being so desperate to love someone! I actually liked her from the beginning, even though she was a bit of a horror, but she made me laugh so much. The supporting characters were also all sparkingly written – the sanctuary owner Jonas, full of hidden wisdom and warm words, “Prof” and Lola, who got what they deserved, and Sylvia’s sister Millie and her daughter Crystal – all full of life and having their own personality, adding tons of depth, reflections and humour to the whole story.
I loved seeing how Sylvia was actually forced by life to change, to rediscover herself, to open up. I actually felt like giving her a standing ovation.
The story was written in the form of diary, so we get only Sylvia’s point of view, and the entries are hilariously honest, especially as she can’t find the happy medium and writes only unpleasant things about all people but one, and that’s, of course, Prof, as she calls him. He, in Sylvia’s eyes, can’t make a mistake, all he does is right and hands off from him to all other women.
It was very emotional but also entertaining read, sometimes uncomfortable because it tells things how they are. A bitter – sweet novel that is going to make you cringe and then laugh in the next second, brilliantly intersperses sadness and seriousness with plenty of humour and funny situations. I loved the idea for this book, I loved the characters, and the plot is unique, fresh and the way it was written was brilliant, Jane O’Connor has such a great way with words, I can’t believe it is her debut novel. The snippets of information about hedgehogs were a frosting on the cake. I personally thought that all of them have fleas and it turns out that’s not true for example. Altogether, “Needlemouse” had believable characters and was a thought – provoking story. It was full of twists, turns and heartfelt revelations and it vividly captured the vulnerability of the main character. A great novel about re – evaluating your life, coming out of hibernation, written with poignancy and care. An absolute must – read and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
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