Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior

I have always loved penguins. Over the years as a child, father, grandfather, watching the march of the penguins at Edinburgh Zoo has always been a highlight. I have even been privileged to see them in their natural habitat wobbling around at the end of the runway near Port Stanley on the Falklands one June (in their bleak mid-winter), even though they were not quite as pristine as their Edinburgh cousins. Away with the Penguins was knocking at an open door.

Granny Veronica McCreedy, an octogenarian from Ayrshire, solitary and wealthy, wondering what to do with her wealth when she dies, lover of wildlife programmes, asks her housekeeper Eileen to use her ‘internet contraption’ and so begins a voyage of discovery, as Veronica and the reader gently discover more and more about her and her past. A grandson, Patrick, living in Bolton, certainly not as pristine as Veronica, or more accurately Mrs McCreedy, would have expected, is identified and met for the very first time.

The voyage of discovery takes us even further south of the Falklands to the South Shetland Islands and a penguin research station and its three scientists. Somehow I was able to suspend disbelief at the thought of an 86 year old, determined though she undoubtedly is, ‘marching’ up ice laden and windswept landscapes to observe the penguins. The author uses the device of very different characters each giving us a running commentary as insights develop and layers of history are unpeeled. Even the penguins play their part.

If I say more, there will have to be a spoiler alert. I found it a good read. I read it in a day. Some of the incongruities seemed almost irrelevant as I savoured the unravelling mystery of Mrs McCreedy against the background of thousands of penguins sitting on their stony nests as the Antarctic springtime arrives ready for new life to begin.

Reviewed by a library member