How are we all? I hope we’re all safe and well. I also hope that any keyworkers amongst us as taking the time to rest and recharge too. One thing I’m really appreciative of is the time I’ve now got because I’m working from home. It’s given me chance to catch up with you all and meet new fellow bloggers. I’ve also been working on the curriculum for my department for 2020/2021 which is exciting. I think we can all agree that we’d like to get back to a sense of normality. The new normal is a bit strange really!
Today I wanted to share with you a book I’ve recently read and absolutely loved. It’s a feel good read that I think we will all appreciate right now. Away with the Penguins is a funny, charming and utterly irresistible novel.
What’s it all about?
Set in Ayrshire, Scotland, the novel centres around the assertive and headstrong Veronica McCreedy. Eileen, her general helper, looks after Veronica’s huge house and undertakes day to day tasks at Veronica’s request. Veronica is not the easiest person to work for or spend time with, so there is an element of sympathy for Eileen here. Veronica loves Darjeeling tea, a wildlife documentary and collects litter from the beach. Despite her age, she trusts her memory because she knows she can recite Hamlet speeches. One evening she discovers her favourite TV show, Earth Matters, has ended. She stumbles across another programme: The Plight of Penguins. She only agrees to watch it because of the presenter, Robert Saddlebow. The programme will follow a different group of penguins each week. This week: emperors. Veronica is completely transfixed. She’s devastated that these beautiful animals are at risk of extinction and an idea starts to form in her head.
‘It is perhaps feasible that my demise might be useful in some way. Unless it is proved otherwise, I must work on the assumption that I have no blood ties at all. It would be pleasing if I could make some small difference to the planet. The more I think about it, the more I am attracted to the idea.’
Throughout the novel, there are entries from ‘Terry’s Penguin Blog’ which share facts and discoveries from the team of Scientists who are working in the Antarctic observing and monitoring the penguins. Sooty, an Adelie penguin, steals my heart for sure! We’re introduced to him in the first entry that features in the novel and I found myself immediately drawn to him.
‘…he’s almost entirely black. Just a few paler feathers in a patch under his chin. His mate, a normal black-and-whiter, was with him for the last four seasons. But where is she? Did she fail to get through the Antarctic winter? Was she eaten by a leopard seal? Or do we have a rare case of penguin infidelity? We’ll never know.’
The novel also features Patrick, a broken hearted, weed smoking, messed up young adult. He is the complete opposite to Veronica but amazingly he is her grandson. Veronica was under the impression that she had no living relatives but after a DNA investigation, Patrick turned out to be a blood relative. These two could not be more different from one another. However legal documentation confirms their blood line. This new knowledge of Patrick raises more questions than answers! Veronica writes to her grandson to inform him of her new knowledge and to arrange a meeting. We learn that Veronica had a son but had given him up as a baby. With little notice, Veronica turns up on Patrick’s doorstep. Their meeting is anything but positive or heart warming.
‘How is it possible that this disgraceful, smeary, drug-befuddled creature could be my grandson? Doesn’t he know about the existence of soap and water? And his bedsit! I simply do not understand how anyone could live in this squalor.’
Following this, both parties appear quite disappointed. Naturally, neither like each other very much. Veronica decides that there is absolutely no way that Patrick is going to get her money. We learn that Veronica has a substantial amount of money, millions in fact. It is this that she wants to create a plan for the future for. The penguins then enter her mind, helped by a reminder in pencil on the mirror! Here, she creates a plan. She is going to use her money to help the penguins. However, before she commits she wants to see them and meet the scientists in Antarctica. Veronica isn’t someone that you can easily say no to. After a few emails between Veronica and Dietrich from the science team and a reluctance from Veronica to back down at all, flights and boats are all booked. Veronica is off to the Antarctic, waved off by Eileen and more surprisingly, Patrick.
“Mrs McCreedy is very set on the idea of going to see you and your penguins. I can’t change her mind, I’m afraid. She’s really quite independent and stubborn. When you meet her you’ll see. I’m sure everything will be fine.’
The team have other ideas though. Upon her arrival there is a mixture of warmth and worry and frank hostility from Mike. It is clear that Veronica has forced her way in and in their eyes, is very unprepared for the realities of what living in this climate is really like. Terry is the only one who embodies warmth at this stage. Surprisingly, a girl, but we finally have a face to match the blog entries we have been seeing within the narrative. Aware of a boat leaving the island, they show Veronica around the camp and try and send her on her merry way. However, the walk back for Veronica proves more difficult than originally anticipated and she is late back. Therefore, she misses the boat and consequently has to stay there for three weeks. Veronica’s plan to remain there has worked! The team are not particularly happy about it though. Terry is the unsung heroine at this point.
‘”Come on, give her a bit longer, will you?” pleads Terry. “We can’t send her away yet. She’s only just arrived and – ”
“- And we already hate her,” says Mike.’
In the meantime, Veronica has sent a box to her grandson. It’s locked with the promise of the code coming at another time. Patrick, still fairly messed up by this new news and his break up, shoves it under the bed for another day. Back at camp, Veronica makes herself at home as best she can. Yet she finds herself quite emotional. She pushes that deep down and continues with her visit. She loves spending time with the penguins and learning their ways and characteristics. As time goes by, Patrick has this overwhelming niggle to check on his Granny V and read the emails from the science team and Eileen. Soon, he receives the code to open the box that was sent to him. Inside, it includes diaries from Veronica when she was younger. Her childhood, teenage years and the story of her son is revealed. Consequently, Patrick has completely thawed towards his grandmother and is even particularly fond of her. The emotions she displays in her diary entries, he feels with her. A bond between the two is finally formed.
“I’ll never be happy again. I’d give anything to be back there, stuck in yesterday for ever. How can I face anything? How can I go on? This happens to other people. Not me. God oh God.”
The bond between grandmother and grandson is also forming for Veronica, despite being thousands of miles away. When out observing the penguins, Terry probs and asks for more information about Veronica’s life. Gradually, over time her character does thaw and starts to divulge information to her. They discuss the war and Veronica finds again that she becomes increasingly emotional. The true identity of Patrick’s father is revealed: Giovanni who disappeared during the war. Yet, Veronica doesn’t stop thinking about him or lose memory of him. Naturally, she wonders where he is, if he survived, if he even thinks of her still. Like the penguins, Veronica is naturally curious. This in turn leads her to think about her grandson and why he is facing the problems he has. It is during this conversation that Veronica spots a bedraggled and lonely penguin. Her heart melts but it is the scientists policy to not get involved with nature. Veronica has another battle on her hands. The motherly instinct in her wants to help and save this penguin. After a heated discussion, Veronica wins and little baby penguin Patrick joins the fold.
‘Even more astonishing is the fact that my baby penguin seems to have taken a liking to me. If I lift him on to the bed he will crawl into the crook of my arm and press up against me. I am aware that any baby creature will seek something warm to cuddle up to, but I cannot help but be wholly delighted that the something, in this instance, is me.’
The friendship between Veronica and Terry strengthens. The two have plenty in common. I’d go as far as saying, Terry is very much a younger embodiment of Veronica. Veronica opens up about her son and what happened. I won’t ruin this for you but it is incredibly moving. As it happens, Veronica takes a turn for the worst and becomes desperately ill. Terry nurses her and spends time with her, as does the little penguin who because of Veronica’s hand rearing, is becoming stronger every day. It’s touch and go with Veronica. Patrick arrives to the scientists camp with more questions than answers. However, the overwhelming emotion he feels is concern. After all, he’s only just got his Granny V into his life and now he was at risk of losing her. Patrick gets renamed: Pip following the reading of Great Expectations by Dietrich. Over time, Veronica gains strength, Terry and Patrick become close and Pip is showing signs that he will be safe in the wild with the other penguins there.
‘I have ventured out to the rookery with the scientists, Patrick and Pip several times over the past two weeks. I am both joyous and emotional to observe how well my little chick gets on with his penguin mates. It may be my imagination, but I could swear he examines his human family in a new way, as if debating with himself whether we are massive, gangly penguins with strange markings.’
The novel ends with Veronica sponsoring Patrick so he can join the team of scientists and continue to be with Terry. Their relationship is clearly blossoming and neither party want to lose that. Also, Terry’s blog is going from strength to strength. The use of social media accurately showing the modern world. We have all seen how a good social media campaign can change things. Rather happily, I was pleased to see that Sooty and his partner were back together around the nest! Patrick and Veronica are close, cemented more by Terry. Most poignantly and arguably most importantly, we finally hear the voice of Giovanni as the novel closes. Veronica and us as a reader, get to hear the answers to those questions Veronica was asking earlier in the novel. I end with the feeling that that relationship could have continued to be a beautiful thing.
‘Veronica: true, headstrong and gloriously vivid. How she shines! No matter what life throws at her, she will defy the odds. Whatever she does, she will be extraordinary.’
Sometimes we all just need to read a book that feels like we are getting a good hug. For me, this was that book. I fell in love with Veronica’s character. Terry is such a beautiful girl too. I felt for Patrick and saw that the reason why he was so angry at the world was because he had many unanswered questions. The additional of penguins was just amazing. I thought it was incredibly clever to use the baby penguin for Veronica to try being a mother for. It showed us exactly what she would have been like for the child she wasn’t allowed to keep. I thoroughly loved this book for so many reasons. It came to me at the right time and I was completely carried away with it.
Stay safe everyone. Keep in touch.
Big love to you all. x