So my 12th. book for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge is Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior. I decided that quite a few of my choices this year would be travelling or holiday type books and this is about a journey that's as far south as you can go without actually finding yourself on the Antarctic continent.
Veronica McCreedy is eighty-five and lives alone in a mansion on the Scottish coast. A woman comes in to 'do' for her but basically Veronica's existance is a lonely one. She drinks a lot of tea, is obsessive about doors being closed and likes to watch wildlife documentaries. She also has a lot of money. As in 'millions'. Who or what to leave it to? Her only son has died and as far as she knows there were no children. But were there? She decides to check. And gets something of a shock.
Watching another wildlife documentary one evening, this one from an island in the Antarctic ocean, Veronica is overcome with sympathy for the plight of the Adélie penguins on said island. There's a scientific research base there where three scientists are living, studying these fascinating birds. An idea occurs to Veronica, she could go there to see if this would be a good project to leave some money to. As might be expected the scientists are not crazy about the idea of an eighty-five year old woman landing herself on them. In fact they're decidedly 'un'crazy to the point of being hostile. But Veronica McCreedy is a woman used to getting her own way...
Well, I know I love armchair travelling but this Antarctic adventure is a departure even for me. Locket Island where most of the book is set does not exist but we've all seen documentaries of penguins on these islands in Antarctica so it's very easy to picture it in your mind. I enjoyed all the penguin details and Patrick, the baby penguin, that is fostered is very cute.
Veronica is no sweet old lady character. She's cranky and obstinate and very used to getting her own way. You can't help but admire her but she does go through some character progression, learning quite a lot along the way. Plus, there are reasons why she is like she is and these are slowly revealed in the form of a diary. So in a way this is a bit of dual-timeline story.
The scientists on the station are a mixed bunch, nice and not-so-nice so this is not a sacharine-sweet tale. And there's real life in this book especially back in the UK and in Veronica's history. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers.) All in all, this was a very enjoyable read for me. The setting was a real departure, as was its wild-life theme, and I loved the fact that the main protagonist was a very elderly, cranky old lady.
I assumed this was a standalone and then discovered that it's not! There's a sequel, Call of the Penguins, which, needless to say, I've already bought for my Kindle.