Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior
Publisher: Bantam Press
Publishing Date: 19th March 2020
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!
Number of pages: 352
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
Veronica McCreedy is about to have the journey of a lifetime . . .
Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of Darjeeling tea whilst watching a good wildlife documentary. And she’s never seen without her ruby-red lipstick.
Although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at 85, her days are spent mostly at home, alone.
She can be found either collecting litter from the beach (‘people who litter the countryside should be shot’), trying to locate her glasses (‘someone must have moved them’) or shouting
instructions to her assistant, Eileen (‘Eileen, door!’).
Veronica doesn’t have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway . . . And she has no idea where she’s going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies.
But today . . . today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change all of this.
Veronica McCreedy is 86, wealthy, living in a mansion in Ayrshire. She’s divorced and except for Eileen, her housekeeper, she has no – one. But she loves her Darjeeling tea, hates doors being left open and adores wildlife documentaries on TV. She has built a wall around herself but now, contemplating her life and wondering what to do with her money, she discovers there is a grandson, Patrick, living in Bolton. But as the first contact is rather disappointing, Veronica sets her mind on saving penguins and travel to Antarctica. But who is going to save whom? Veronica penguins or penguins Veronica?
I wanted to read this book so much not because – like so many of the other reviewers – of the penguins, though I must admit that it was also a very catchy angle, and if you think that the penguins are used as a metaphor or something, well, no, there are cute penguins overload, and I think it’s a brilliant idea! – so yes, maybe because of the penguins as well, but I also loved Hazel’s debut novel. I actually rated it with 5 stars, so am not sure what to do with this book as I enjoyed it even more than “Ellie and the Harpmaker”.
The story is told through Veronica and Patrick’s points of view, and the characters slowly but steadily grew on me, especially Patrick that, I must admit, probably misjudged a bit. Veronica was a brilliant character, a woman who really knew what she wanted. She was feisty, determined, persistent and actually very stubborn but in a way that was not so obvious. I mean, it was obvious that she’s stubborn, and she always got what she wanted, but she accomplished those things with a lot of charm. Oh well, OK then, she did whatever it took to get ahead but she didn’t hurt anybody, even if she took no notice of others’ opinions. It was simply somehow funny.
Throughout the story we also learn about Veronica’s past and see what it was that shaped her and made her the person she is now – lonely and harsh in judging. But she used to be so full of life and joy, and it was heart – breaking to see what has happened to her. However, deep down I always thought that she was always a good person at heart, it was life that simply stopped her believing in people, and she proved me right, giving the relationship with Patrick a chance, with the little help of Pip the penguin and the lovely Terry.
It’s very easy to make assumptions about Patrick, just like Veronica, and me too, but if you give him a chance, you’ll see there is so much more to him that meets the eye.
The writing style is so easy and chatty, and I liked it even better than in the first book – it simply seemed gentler and was so pleasant, as if the author has found her real voice this time, or felt more confident. It is vivid and warm, bringing the places and characters to life. The story is so well researched, the hard work that author put into it is evident and it paid off, as I truly enjoyed every single word and the descriptions of Antarctica, the conditions and the penguins were exquisite.
You actually don’t have to love penguins to adore this novel. This whole story oozes with charm and warmth and it was a lovely, warm and uplifting book about celebrating life and second chances, about love and loss and life altogether. It’s full of humour, but it is also poignant, so be prepared that you may shed a tear or two. There is also an environmental message in the book that I, as an animal lover, enjoyed very much, and I was truly quickly sold on Veronica because of her approach to animals. It is, without a doubt, one of the most delightful and cheerful and clever books I have read in a long time. Highly recommended!
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