Title: Away With the Penguins
Author: Hazel Prior
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: March 2020
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. (Goodreads)
I wasn’t entirely sure that I would enjoy this story. Cantankerous old ladies aren’t usually the characters I connect with but I requested this as I had previously loved Hazel Prior’s debut novel Ellie and the Harp Maker and hoped that this story would have the same hopeful, character-driven plot. I was not disappointed.
Veronica McCreedy was a hard character to crack. From the beginning she was utterly unlikeable, unnecessarily feisty and inconsiderate. That said, she wore me down. Like sandpaper on a stone. This book is not what I’d consider a breezy, comfortable reading experience that could blissfully fill up a lazy Sunday afternoon. Not at all. Instead, I spent my time chipping away at this book over a month. In the beginning I could only get through a few chapters at a time before Veronica got on my nerves and drove me away.
But after I reached the middle of the book…. something magical happened. Although Veronica didn’t quite change and was as unrelentingly grumpy and pushy as ever, she started to make more sense. Gifted with a view of her younger years, read through the POV of her estranged grandson, Veronica’s reluctance to make connections with others, compromise or apologise for her strength of personality were no longer annoying. Rather they were a badge of honour signifying her inner strength and growth. After surviving a difficult past, her strength and conviction to be her own person (screw anybody else) became a trait that I no longer disliked but rather… admired. What a difference some perspective can make!
Despite all of this, Prior’s writing was strong, sure and beautifully done. The Antarctic wilderness and penguin colonies came to life and made me wish I was the adventurous sort. If a stubborn octogenarian can survive a holiday there – why can’t I?
The aspect that brought my rating down from a 4-Star to a 3.5-Star was the clumsiness in the change between POVs. Often the POV would change with little-to-no warning and I was caught off-guard. It made the reading experience more cumbersome than needed and this story would have benefitted from clear headings outlining the changes in POV. That said, I received an ARC copy so the formatting could change.
*ARC provided by publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*