Book Review: The Penguin Lessons by Tom Mitchell

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The Penguin LessonsThe Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tom Mitchell recounts his true and bizarre meeting of an adorable Penguin while traveling in Central America in his twenties. He stumbled across the only one left alive on a shore of oil slicken Penguins in Uruguay and manages to bring him back to the flat where he is staying. There’s a strong bond from the start. Under the regime of Eva Perón with an imminent military coup, the penguin was smuggled through customs and into Argentina, back to the boarding school where Tom taught. Juan Salvador, the charming Penguin, manages to become the school mascot and everyone’s friend. He’s pampered and treasured by students and school staff alike.
The most enjoyable thing about this light hearted quirky tale is that it’s true. The formidable determination of Tom resulted in Juan Salvador living a very charmed life indeed! Here’s where the charm stops. There wasn’t enough story to go into such word count. It wasn’t a long story, and it wasn’t a profound story. I found myself flicking through three to four pages of a rugby match yawn-fest and then again with a scene where Tom and Juan meet the school’s housekeepers’s family. There were more than a few of these moments in the book. I think if they were shorter they could have been much funnier.
The book did include some interesting insight into the Argentinian society and political World of the seventies. The cover, the concept, and the cute little illustrations were as delightful as the tale itself but frankly, there were too many pages. Overall a light and entertaining story but I feel it lacked substance and had too many fillers.

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Supply & Demand

The car rolled up the gravel path. Wiping his hands in his leather apron, Dak sauntered over to the stove and put a pan of water on. He poured white spirits over his stained hands at the basin, and rubbed and old rag into the deep crevices.

‘Mornin Dak, a fine one it is too’

Dak nodded at him as he walked in to his usual spot at the back of the cave, out of the sun. He put a parcel and a letter on the desk and sat down.

‘There’s a few more orders for ya today. These things are gettin quite popular with folk, ya know’

Dak brought the tea to the table and sat down opposite to Jo. He didn’t look up as he poured the tea.

‘I’m running out of stock’

Jo tilted his head upward and took a deep breath in.

‘Well, ya know, supply and demand, and all that. There’s three more orders today, and that makes seven orders outstanding, isn’t it?’

Dak nodded.

‘I want you to know that I never kill any living creature to make these pieces. I respect the life that lived in every skull and every bone I find on this land’

Jo cleared his throat.

‘Oh sure, but- supply and demand Dak. There’s money to be made here and –

He snorted and omitted a jarring laugh that made Dak grimace. It faded once he realised he was the only one amused. He slurped his tea and put it down, looking sideways in thought before starting to talk again.

‘See, these rich folk don’t know what to be doing with their money Dak. It’s the new in- thing, if ya hear me. They want them on their mantles, they want to gift them to their friends on their birthdays, you know? They want them’

Dak stared passed Jo’s head at the wall behind him. He continued.

‘The mayor’s wife was looking for a nice big one. She’ll pay big bucks’

‘Big bucks: Big skull?’

‘Exactly’, Jo guffawed

’How big? As big as her husbands fat belly?’

‘Aw come on now Dak. I’m givin you an opportunity to make some money here! And you know, I earn a pittance with the National Post. Jenny’s wedding is coming up. It’s not easy to reach the level of affair she’s aspirin to’

Dak got up from the table and walked to his bench.

‘I’ll see what I can do. I’ll finish these two by tomorrow, and I’ll have a scout around today. It’s not the right season for roadkill or hawk prey, but I’ll look.

Jo stood up and wriggled his National Postal cap back on his fat head.

‘What about catching a few rabbits in a snare, Dak? Or even a deer for the mayor’s wife?’

Dak turned and walked towards Jo quickly. He stopped abruptly when their noses almost touched.

‘What did I just say?’

He walked back to his bench and stared at the wall until Jo walked out of the cave, past him and down the path to the van. That night Dak dreamed of the Stag. He had met him several times when running in the forest as a child. Each time, the stag had stopped in his tracks and stared into his eyes, penetrating him with an intense love that he’d never experienced again.

The following morning, he lay in bed and watched the sun slide further into the front of his cave before he jumped up and set to work. It didn’t take long as he’d seen his father do it time after time. As he raised the net and tested the ropes, he recalled the morning he had stood with the village looking up into the trees, watching the stag struggling hysterically in the net. A dart pierced his neck. Even once he had given up the stag kept his gaze until the life drained out of him.

Later, Dak stood at his bench and prepared his paints. A tiny skull of a bird sat in a delicate clamp in front of him. He heard the crackling stones under the tyres of the postal van. The van door shut loudly and Dak jumped. A few steps crunched on the gravel before he heard a howl.

‘Dak, what the fuck is this? Get me down right now you fucking weirdo’

Dak’s smile slowly widened.

‘Dak? Dak are you there? Oh come on!!!

A nice big skull.

He turned. There stood the Stag, staring into Dak’s eyes.

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