I don’t know whether it was just timing i.e. I needed a book to transport me away from 2021 but Away with the Penguins made me soar. A good book is meant to do that, isn’t it? The weather was grey, everywhere was flooded and the news was as gloomy as ever so last weekend I curled up on the sofa and read this book.
Mr B’s Emporium had recommended Away with the Penguins to me. I love their reviews as they are always letting me know about unusual books that are brilliant but may not have a massive marketing budget behind them, so they are not well-known.
Penguins have always fascinated me and even more so since I watched a David Attenborough documentary on them. I could see these penguins had personalities and were determined little creatures.
The book starts with Veronica McCreedy, an elderly lady who lives on her own in a fairly large house by the sea in Scotland cared for by her housekeeper, Ellen. Mrs McCreedy has a stubborn but determined personality with a sharp but amusing tongue. I was laughing out loud through these early chapters.
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.
The book develops recounting events of the past, growing up during WWII, and the present. She has reached an age where she starts to question what she has done with her life. Can she make a difference? Does she have any family out there that she doesn’t know about?
And then there are the Penguins.
Like I, Veronica fell in love with Penguins through wildlife documentaries and discovered certain ones, the Adélie Penguins, who are threatened with distinction. She is an environmental enthusiast and is also concerned about animal welfare issues, so she relates to the Adélie Penguins plight.
So the story unfolds. There is one bad review on Amazon for this book by some cranky, grumpy reviewer. Ignore it as this book deserves better. It is a book of pure escapism. Away with the Penguins takes one away from this desperate world and angry people, the endless grim thrillers on TV to a world that one can relate to. It is pure fiction but well-researched. The chapters involving the penguins are sheer bliss.
Hazel Prior is a brilliant storyteller. Her characters in this book resonated with me. There are not enough superlatives for this book – heartwarming, uplifting, endearing, quirky, emotional, funny – the list is endless. Now and again, you read a book that you know will stay with you forever; this is how I felt having read Away with the Penguins.
‘This year’s Eleanor Oliphant . . . Funny, bittersweet and wholly original.’ Daily Express
‘I love this gorgeous book. Unflinching, stubborn, funny and moving, Veronica is an unlikely heroine who will sneak in and capture your heart.’ Trisha Ashley