Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Review: Away with the Penguins* by Hazel Prior

I downloaded this book because (1) a friend recommended it to me, (2) of the very clever title, and (3) the absolutely gorgeous cover. I am so glad I did. This book will definitely be one of my favourite reads this year. Think Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - but with penguins!

Veronica McCreedy is very wealthy, lives in a huge mansion in Scotland, is never seen without her ruby red lipstick and has a collection of very expensive handbags. She spends her days collecting litter from the beach ('People who litter the countryside should be shot'), watching wildlife programmes on TV, and bossing her much put upon assistant around. She's also 85 years old.

Realising that she has no family or friends to leave her fortune to, she tracks down her long-lost grandson. The meeting is such a disaster (for both of them!) she thinks she should just leave her money to the penguins. Or rather, the scientists who are studying them at a remote and poorly-funded research station in the Antarctica. And because Veronica is a sensible (stubborn, bloody-minded) kind of person, she decides to pay the research centre a visit before agreeing to part with any cash. Much to the horror of the scientists...

The story is told from the point of view of Veronica and her grandson Patrick, interspersed with short blog posts written by one of the scientists. Both Veronica and Patrick are brilliant characters with very strong, very different voices. Veronica, for example, turns up at the research station with all the correct gear, whereas Patrick just jumps on a plane and arrives in the Antarctic completely unprepared. The story is very funny, completely realistic and also poignant - especially during flashbacks to the 1940s, when Veronica was an unmarried mother. There is a serious message about climate change, lots and lots of penguins, and a cute little rescued chick called Pip. The only bit I wasn't keen on was the epilogue, because it tied up all the loose ends and I would have loved a sequel!

As you might have guessed, I absolutely loved Away with the Penguins. It deserves to be a huge bestseller because it is completely brilliant and utterly original. If you only buy one book this year, buy this one. I guarantee you will love it too!

*Published as How the Penguins Saved Veronica in the USA

Thank you to Hazel Prior and Bantam Press for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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