Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Instructions for a Heatwave - Maggie O'Farrell

'The very bricks, mortar and plaster of this house are saturated with the lives of her three children. She cannot believe they have gone. And that they are back.'

I should declare that I am a big fan of this author - I loved The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and The Hand that First Held Mine in particular. I chose the former as my first choice for my World Book Night book to distribute in 2012. I was therefore very excited indeed to hear about a new novel coming from Maggie O'Farrell. I've now read Instructions for a Heatwave, and I wasn't at all disappointed. She is such a consistently good writer; I find her novels so incredibly satisfying and rewarding to read. 

Set over four days in July during the very famous red hot summer of 1976, the novel introduces us to Robert Riordan and his wife Gretta. After Robert leaves the house one morning to pop and by a newspaper and doesn't return, his three adult children, Michael, Monica and Aoife, are reluctantly brought back together to help with the search for him and support their mother. They cannot imagine the two of them apart; Michael thinks to himself that 'his father minus his mother is an unsolvable equation.'

Each of them is pulled away from the separate lives they have forged for themselves. We learn that Michael's marriage is in a delicate state, that Aiofe has somehow escaped her family and made a life for herself in the USA coping somehow with the secret that seriously afflicts her ability to live her everyday life, and that Monica has an unhappy existence in a home that doesn't feel like her own with children from her partner's previous relationship who don't offer her much affection.

The author has woven a compelling tale that moves seamlessly between the past and the present throughout and has created characters that are beautiful and likeable each in their own flawed, damaged way. I was drawn into the story immediately and felt I wanted to get to the heart of what was really going on in the minds of each of the three adult siblings.

I felt that I engaged with all of the characters; each one of them is so well drawn and believable, and troubled in their own ways. Aiofe carries with her the memories of her difficulties in childhood, and is trying out experiences in life to try and find her place.  Monica is coping, yet her past actions haunt her and her present isn't bringing her much happiness. Michael is a very well drawn male character who is struggling with his wife's new studies and friends; he feels neglected and can't understand why him sharing his knowledge with her isn't enough.

Gretta is also an intriguing character whose dominating presence is felt throughout the novel; a strong mother who has brought her children up with certain firm ideas that she holds so dear to, yet there is more to this woman, her past is also fascinating; her history is a key thread that gradually unwinds throughout the book. Some of the passages revealing Gretta's thoughts about her home and the children growing up there are so evocative and moving, her memories are so vivid and clear.

I felt as I was reading that I was looking in on real people seen at their most vulnerable. The situations are heightened by the intensity of the heat that summer. The characters and the events kept me gripped, and the author brings the whole together at the end for a very satisfying conclusion.

Maggie O'Farrell demonstrates such a keen insight into human relationships in her writing; she captures the bonds of family and love that are so strong. She illustrates so convincingly the secrets and anxieties that people carry with them from their past into their present and which can tear people apart and damage the closeness they once shared. She also depicts the need we have for others, the fragility of love and of the lives we have constructed for ourselves, and how the past is always in danger of coming and breaking back through into the present.

Altogether this is once again marvellous, insightful storytelling by Maggie O'Farrell. Instructions for a Heatwave is beautifully written throughout and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading it.   

I think this will please both existing fans of this author and encourage new readers of her works too.

Another lovely to book to look forward to in 2013! 

Reviewed by Lindsay Healy

Published by Tinder Press - a new imprint from Headline - on 28 February 2013

Thanks very much to the publisher for kindly sending me a proof copy to read and give an honest review.


  1. I am SO excited for this book, I love Maggie O'Farrell (After You'd Gone still holds the prize for the book that most made me blubber like a baby!) I'm glad you liked this - it makes me even more impatient to read it!

    1. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did. Great to hear you're a fan too. Thanks for commenting :)

  2. Lovely review Lynz, I think I have one of this author on my tbr or I recognize the name from you or one of the other bloggers. Sounds good.


    1. Cheers, Lainy :) Do give this author a try and see what you think. Lovely writer.

  3. Always love reading your reviews Lins. I can tell how much you enjoyed this novel :) x

    1. Thanks Shaz, lovely to hear that. Thanks for commeting :) x


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