Away With The Penguins by Hazel Prior

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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.

My thoughts

At 86 years old Veronica is the epitome of stubborn and humourless. She leads a life where everything must be just so, although it is down to her long-suffering ‘daily’, Eileen, to achieve this for her. With no children other than a now deceased son that was adopted out shortly after his birth, Veronica realises that at her age she should be considering what to do with her considerable fortune. With Eileen’s help she discovers that the son she didn’t know also had a son, Patrick, and Veronica decides to meet him. Patrick is not at all what Veronica is expecting and their brief meeting leaves them both feeling disappointed. Now feeling as though she now has no outlet for her to devote her life and money to, Veronica decides to turn her full attention to the plight of a dwindling population of Adelie penguins on a remote and inhospitable island in the Antarctic that she has been following in a nature documentary series on television.

This was the point at which the story switched from being enjoyable to being thoroughly entertaining and engaging. We alternate between Veronica’s excursion to visit the penguins, depositing herself into the lives of the three horrified resident scientists on the island, and Patrick’s humdrum, unfulfilling existence in Bolton as he tries to recover from his girlfriend suddenly leaving him for another man. Much of Veronica’s back story is given to us through the journals she wrote as a teenager in war-torn Britain and which she gave to Patrick to read.

This is without doubt the sweetest, most charming book I have read this year. It has made me cry and it has made me laugh out loud. And now that I’ve finished it, even though it concluded perfectly, I am feeling a little bereft because I want to know more about what the future holds for Veronica, Patrick, the scientists and, of course, Pip the penguin!

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