*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to NetGalley and Penguin UK – Ebury. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Time to come out of hibernation…
Sylvia Penton has been hibernating for years, it’s no wonder she’s a little prickly…
Sylvia lives alone, dedicating herself to her job at the local university. On weekends, she helps out at a local hedgehog sanctuary because it gives her something to talk about on Mondays – and it makes people think she’s nicer than she is.
Only Sylvia has a secret: she’s been in love with her boss, Professor Lomax, for over a decade now, and she’s sure he’s just waiting for the right time to leave his wife. Meanwhile she stores every crumb of his affection and covertly makes trouble for anyone she feels gets in his way.
But when a bright new PhD candidate catches the Professor’s eye, Sylvia’s dreams of the fairy tale ending she has craved for so long, are soon in tatters, driving her to increasingly desperate measures and an uncertain future.
Sylvia might have been sleep walking through her life but things are about to change now she’s woken up…
I was in permanent cringe-mode for most of the first half of this book, so when the worst finally happened it actually felt like a cathartic release! Jane O’Connor has managed to create a heroine narrator who starts off almost completely unlikable and gradually develops, until you find yourself completely invested in her finally uncurling and letting people past the prickles (yes, the hedgehogs are perfectly symbolic throughout!).
Sylvia certainly has some extremely spiky defense mechanisms: denial, repression, fantasism, manipulation and outright rudeness. Gradually, as events unfold, the reader – and then those around her – realises firstly how much she is hurting from her isolation, and then how desperately she would like to relate to those around her in more positive ways. As the character grows, so she grows on us.
I can see lots of comparison points with books like Eleanor Oliphant, as Sylvia is another socially awkward and isolated woman, struggling with demons of her past, and misinterpreting the social cues and mores around her. One big difference here is Sylvia’s clearly obsessive nature, which makes her a less sympathetic character but in many ways a more interesting one.
This is quite an emotional book, taking us deep into the pain and shame of the main character. There isn’t much action but instead a very thorough and intimate exploration of an ordinary human life in all its suffering but also all its hope. I would recommend this for fans of Stephanie Butland, Gail Honeyman and similar introvert-centred stories.
Tea duly made and delivered, Prof and I then had our golden time together. This is my favourite part of the day, when we spend ten, or maybe even fifteen, minutes going through his diary, discussing the meetings he has to attend and the people who are coming to see him. Often Prof has earmarked time for writing in his daily schedule and this is when my shielding of him becomes invaluable. I see myself very much as his defender, fending off the hordes of students and faculty staff who are desperate for a piece of him. They would suck Prof dry if they had the chance. He doesn’t know the half of it, what I do for him, how I keep them at bay so he can just get on, but he is safe in the knowledge that my loyalty to him is complete.
– Jane O’Connor, Needlemouse
Needlemouse is available on Amazon right now!