Life doesn’t always end up the way we planned it, or the way we expected it to. That’s what happens to Sylvia Penton. She always thought her life would be pretty much like everyone else’s: she’d meet ‘Mr Right’; get married; have children and live mediocrely ever after. But that’s not exactly the way it works out. Instead, she watches as it happens for everyone else. And now, here she is at the age of 52, staid, prissy and alone. She has her mother, an aloof and judgemental influence who she’d rather avoid, her beloved sister Millie, but Millie is married to Kamal and that’s … well … complicated. And there’s her niece Crystal, who she’s never really taken to.
Sylvia works at a hedgehog sanctuary at the weekend – mainly so that she’ll have something to talk about at work on Mondays, and also because she quite likes the company of the quiet and solitary Jonas who runs it. Because Sylvia is harbouring a very large secret: she is in love with her boss, Professor Carl Lomax, affectionately known to her as ‘Prof’. She’s loved him since she first laid eyes on him over 10 years ago. She just knows that he feels the same and that it’s only a matter of time before he leaves his wife and they can finally, openly be together. She is his fierce protector and defender. He can do no wrong in her eyes.
Syvia has, in fact built an entire fantasy life around Prof and her future with him, and as the reader is drawn further into her quest to achieve her goal, we cannot help but be both amused and alarmed at the lengths that she will go to in order to achieve it. It reaches the point where it’s a bit like a car wreck: you just can’t help slowing down and staring in open-mouthed horror as you watch Sylvia’s life deteriorate and crumble around her.
Jane O’Connor writes with both comedic and empathetic skill about individuals who are very real. Those who are put on pedestals, but who are in fact just average, flawed people just like everyone else, as well as those who live on the fringes of society, forgotten and overlooked only because they don’t fit into any type of niche but who have so much to offer to those who are willing to take the time to stop and notice them.
I adored this book! I loved its quirkiness and charm which ooze off the pages, and I give it 5 big off-beat stars!
Jane O’Connor is a former primary school teacher turned academic and writer. She grew up in Surrey and lived in London until she moved to the West Midlands in her mid-thirties. Jane’s PhD was about child stars and she is now a Reader at Birmingham City University where she researches children’s experiences of celebrity, media and everyday life. Jane lives in Sutton Coldfield with her husband and two young sons in a house full of pirates, dinosaurs, superheroes and lots of books. She really likes all animals, especially hedgehogs.
Thank you to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me along and introducing me to Sylvia and the hedgehogs. Take a look at what other bloggers think of Needlemouse …