Needlemouse by Jane O'Connor

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Needlemouse by Jane O'Connor

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: This is one of my favourite pieces of fiction this year. A brilliant and wonderfully believable story which has been exquisitely written. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: May 2019
Publisher: Ebury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1529103281

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We first meet Sylvia Penton on her birthday and her boss, the Prof, is taking her out to lunch. This is her favourite day of the year, not because it's her birthday but because of the special time she gets to spend with the man she loves. He's told her that he and his wife are going to divorce - Martha is apparently having an affair - and Sylvia is convinced that the Prof will then declare his love and they can be together. She hasn't fully constructed 'together' in her own mind - she envisages it as romantic, but her imagination hasn't yet progressed to the sexual part of the relationship. There's time though - she's only been the prof's PA for fifteen years.

You might be feeling rather sorry for this fifty-two year old spinster who's trying to interpret every word her boss speaks, every action, into something positive which means that they will 'be together', despite all the evidence to the contrary, but you gradually realise that Sylvia's not a very nice person as she takes pleasure in causing problems for people. And gradually her devotion to her boss turns into something far more sinister. You know that it can't end well.

She does have a family. Her sister Millie is married to Kamal and they run a deli. Sylvia's not keen on her niece, Crystal and does her best to avoid even having to speak to her. Sylvia's mother is cold and critical, if not quite hostile. There's a big secret being hidden which could blow all the relationships apart. There is one pleasure in Sylvia's life - she helps out at the local hedgehog sanctuary. That's where we get our title from: the Japanese for 'hedgehog' translates as 'needlemouse' and if you've ever tried to handle a hedgehog you'll know how apposite the name is. Does Sylvia help out at the sanctuary because she wants to, or because it makes her look like a nicer person? It took me a long time to be certain about that as Sylvia's all about appearances, even severely restricting her diet so that she never goes above a size eight.

I had to read this book: I used to help out at a hedgehog sanctuary and I've a soft spot for them. Jane O'Connor has done a superb job of bringing them - and their care - to life: she has it spot on. She has Sylvia Penton spot on too: we've all met someone like her, but what we've probably not appreciated is that there might well be a story behind how that person is and that with a little kindness they might - like a hedgehog - uncurl and reveal themselves. It's a real tribute to O'Connor's writing that I began by pitying Sylvia, then despising her and - finally - coming round to understanding and rather liking her.

This is O'Connor's debut novel and I can't wait to see what she writes next. I read Needlemouse in less than twenty-four hours, resenting every time that I had to put the book down. The plotting is faultless and the insight into Sylvia's character is brilliant. It's a book to reread too - and next time I shall take the time to savour it. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might enjoy How to be Happy by Eva Woods and Keep Walking Rhona Beech by Kate Tough.

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Buy Needlemouse by Jane O'Connor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Needlemouse by Jane O'Connor at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Needlemouse by Jane O'Connor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Needlemouse by Jane O'Connor at


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