Away with the Penguins, a review by Joanna

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Away with the Penguins

Hazel Prior

Transworld Digital

385 pages

Published 2020

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I don’t recall what prompted me to purchase this last year, when I’m trying really hard not to buy new books: a rave review, perhaps, and I’m sure the cute cover helped – I’ve been fascinated by Antarctica for half my life, and who doesn’t love penguins? Craving something gentle, I settled in for a hopefully heartwarming read. Unfortunately, I was to be slightly disappointed – by trying a bit too hard to be like “A Man Called Ove”this suffers from an unpleasant heroine who takes rather too long to redeem herself, although she does get there in the end.

Veronica McCreedy is a curmudgeonly 86 year old who lives alone in her grand Scottish mansion, with only her kindly cleaner Eileen for company. A tragedy in her youth left her with no friends or family, her wealth brings her little comfort, and her newly discovered stoner grandson is rather a disappointment. A wildlife documentary about the plight of Antarctic penguins leads to an epiphany – she will travel to the struggling research station featured and offer them her fortune – and against all objections and common sense, off she goes. The small team of scientists on Locket Island are horrified by their unwanted guest, and can’t wait for her to leave, but Mrs McCreedy is determined to see penguins in the wild if it kills her…
This is told from the first person present POV of Veronica and Patrick, and parts are Veronica’s teenage diaries from WW2, which explain what happened to make her so cold and bitter. Neither young nor old Veronica are remotely likeable – at fifteen she’s vain, selfish and obsessed with boys, while in the present she’s wilful, manipulative and yes, still selfish. I found the wartime diary chapters quite boring and predictable – and they certainly don’t read like a teenager’s journal entries, although they did give me some degree of sympathy for her. What I did enjoy were the parts about living on the research base, and the penguins themselves. In the final quarter both Veronica and Patrick quite suddenly turn into nice people who care about each other, and the ending was predictably happy, although I wasn’t sure about the epilogue. There’s a charming short story at the end of the ebook called Mrs McCreedy’s Christmas, which is told from Eileen’s perspective. There is a sequel which I probably will buy at some point despite my lukewarm feelings about this one, as I do want to know what happens next. 3.5 rounded down for the present tense.

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