Tuesday 28 May 2013

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

The heat, the heat.  It wakes Gretta just after dawn, propelling her from the bed and down the stairs.  It inhabits the house like a guest who has outstayed his welcome: it lies along corridors, it circles around curtains, it lolls heavily on sofas and chairs.  The air in the kitchen is like a solid entity filing the space, pushing Gretta down into the floor, against the side of the table.
Only she would choose to bake bread in such weather.
Published by Tinder Press on 29th August 2013
384 pages
It’s July 1976 and London is in the grip of a heatwave.  It hasn’t rained for months, the gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round the corner to buy a newspaper.  He doesn’t come back.
The search for Robert brings Gretta’s children – two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce – back home, each with different ideas as to where their father may have gone.  None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share.
Reviewed by Georgina Tranter
I loved this newest novel from award-winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell, to the extent that I read it in one day.  The cover looks like a beautiful poster from long-ago with its image of children on the beach interspersed with a table set for dinner.  This is such an atmospheric novel.  I don’t remember the heatwave from 1976 and after reading this book, I’m glad I don’t.  The descriptions of just how hot and still the air was during this summer were so well written that I could believe I was there.  Even though it is less than 40 years ago, the way society and people have changed in that period is immense.  O’Farrell mixes the story alongside segments of the Drought Act of 1976 which only increases its ambience.
Gretta’s husband disappears on his way to get a newspaper.  She doesn’t worry until later that day and summons her three children to help her to find him.  Each of them has their own worries to contend with and the book brings them together with all of their problems.  Son Michael Francis is an unhappy teacher looking forward only to the start of the summer holidays; his wife is behaving very oddly and his two children need looking after.  Middle child Monica has a husband who is distant and two step-children who barely know she exists; she hasn’t spoken to her youngest sister for years.  Youngest child Aoife has fled the country for a new life in America, the odd-ball of the family, she has her own demons to deal with.
O’Farrell weaves her magic into this delightful Irish family nest.  Can they all pull together to find out what happened to Robert or will their own problems only cause them to fall dramatically apart?  This is the perfect summer novel.

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