on 28 June 2013
This book landed on my desk when a colleague, who is a great fan of the author, suggested I read it. At first I found it hard to get used to the style of writing, but im glad I persevered as the book was interesting, and some of the characters were very descriptive and well developed. However, I found the plot to be quite plodding, and although I read it pretty quickly, I wasn't left amazed or satisfied with the ending, which was a bit of an 'oh, ok then' moment. The heatwave, as other reviewers have said, does seem like a bit of an afterthough and doesn't tie in with anything thats happening, but it does set the scene, and you can imagine people sweating through London heatwaves in the 70s from the description. I'm reading Esme Lennox (same author) now, and I'm hoping this one will do a bit more for me!
on 15 March 2015
I was intrigued by the synopsis for this book,but disappointed with the actual read. I felt the heatwave had absolutely no relevance to the story itself and I felt as though the story was just getting really interesting when it ended with one of those very unsatisfactory ends - I turned the page expecting to see another chapter but was just left hanging with no real answer to the event that started the story.
on 7 April 2014
When Instructions for a Heatwave appeared on my book club’s reading long list, I made sure it got shortlisted. O’Farrell had won the Costa Novel award in 2010 with The Hand that First Held Mine and the blurb for Instructions appealed to me: it’s set in July 1976 and although I was only nine at the time I have a clear memory of the heat wave of the title that gripped Britain that year. So: a prize winning author; a nostalgic setting – what’s not to like?
Plenty, as it turns out. For a start there is no real sense of drought. It takes more than mentioning aphids, a standpipe and feeling hot, to really get under the skin of life without water on tap. Reproducing sections of the Drought Act 1976 to mark the different sections of the book only serves to underline how little of the ‘heatwave’ finds its way into the narrative.
If O’Farrell only pays lip-service to the setting, then the characters are likewise superficially drawn. Take one garrulous Irish matriarch “Mammy”, add an absent “Daddy”; throw in a handful of children simultaneously experiencing life crises; season with an Irish name, Catholic references and a dash of sexual hypocrisy – and make sure lots of characters’ points of view bubble to the surface, preferably multiple times within the same chapter!
Harsh? Perhaps. It is, I suppose, a pleasant enough read, if that’s what you want but I wanted – and expected – much, much more, principally because of O’Farrell’s “Costa winner” moniker.
Lies, damned lies, and book awards....
[I might still try The Hand that First Held Mine one day, if only to satisfy my curiosity!]
For more reviews visit whatcathyread.wordpress.com
on 28 February 2014
This book is depressing, terribly written, has no story and completely unbelievable characters. Avoid!! I regret the money and time I wasted for it.
Maggie O'Farrell's eagerly anticipated latest novel 'Instructions for a Heatwave' is a very readable and entertaining story that pulls the reader in from the very first pages. Set in London, during the heatwave of 1976, we meet Gretta Riordan, a Catholic Irish woman, mother to three grown-up children, and her husband, Robert, a retired bank employee. As yet another hot and listless day begins, Robert goes out for his daily newspaper, just as he does every morning - however, today, he doesn't return home. As the day wears on, Gretta becomes more and more worried and, when it is discovered that Robert has taken money and his passport, she realizes that her husband had no intention of returning home when he left their house that morning.
Gretta now has to tell her three children that Robert has disappeared; firstly there is her eldest child, Michael Francis, a teacher, married to Claire and whose marriage is in difficulty; then there is Monica, the middle child, whose first marriage broke up after a tragic event and is now married to antiques dealer, Peter, and living in the countryside; however, Monica is not entirely happy - she not only misses London, but Peter's two daughters bitterly resent her and make her life very difficult. And finally there is Gretta and Robert's younger daughter, Aoife, their 'problem' child, whose difficult and challenging behaviour has caused problems for the rest of the family, especially since she has "gone off the rails". (When, in fact, most of Aoife's problems are due to her painful battle with undiagnosed dyslexia). After a terrible misunderstanding with Monica, the cause of which is gradually revealed to the reader, Aoife has left London and has been working in New York, desperately trying to conceal from her lover and her employer, the fact that she cannot read. As all three of Gretta's children congregate to try to establish why their father has disappeared, the heat rises in more ways than one, and when family skeletons begin to emerge from the closet, things begin to get rather messy and claustrophobic in the Riorden family. But what has really happened to Robert? And does Gretta know more about Robert's problems than she is prepared to reveal to others? (No spoilers).
Moving from London, to New York and to Ireland, this is a beautifully written story and a very perceptive observation of the internal dynamics of family relationships; of how we try to conceal things and about the lies we tell to ourselves and others. Throughout her story Maggie O'Farrell cleverly reveals layer after layer of secrets and misconceptions making this story both a compelling and intelligent read. However, perceptive as Maggie O'Farrell may be in her observations, her story would not work as well as it does without effective characterisations - and Gretta is a rather amazing creation in more ways than one: religious, loving and maternal, yet loud, boisterous, impulsive and critical; and, to her children, she is sometimes embarrassing with her tent-sized, flower-splotched, home-made dresses and her raincoat held together with staples. Aoife is another character who really shines and Maggie O'Farrell's description of Aoife's dyslexic difficulties and of the desperate strategies she has to employ to conceal these difficulties is powerfully and sensitively conveyed to the reader. I could write a lot more about what I enjoyed about this story - but I won't, because I hope by now that you will want to read this warm and involving novel for yourself. Recommended.
on 4 November 2013
I'm a bit divided in my feelings about this novel, as O'Farrell's writing is evocative and enchanting (even though several 'him' and 'her' where it should read 'he' and 'she' were a bit distracting). Her character development is excellent and the intricacies of the relationships are detailed and believable. Sadly, the story itself is lacking. Halfway through the novel I found myself wondering if anything was going to happen, and by the end I realised that it hadn't.
on 30 January 2014
Really thought this would be a good read. I admit I still haven't finished it. I am finding it hard to bother. I am over half way through and really nothing of interest has happened. Even if it does now, I hate reading books where it takes over half of the read to get any where. Would not recommend this.
on 4 September 2014
Just felt the story was weak far too much detail about nothing and basically really boring
Would really not recommend it
on 21 February 2016
I really love the way that Maggie O'Farrell writes - I've read all of her novels - not in a 'follower' type way but more of a coincidence that I picked up each book of hers over the years and thought I liked the sound of it - and having read the list of her books realised that I have indeed read them all - so you could say I am an unwitting follower!
I noticed from a few of the reviews that some readers were frustrated with the lack of story or plot...it is almost this that I love about it. It is about the people, the family and the nuances in the familial relationships and for me it highlights so much that is unspoken, misunderstood, assumed or taboo within a family - especially from this era. There is a strong sense of what is the right or wrong way to behave within this family which doesn't allow for each individual to be truly authentic and honest when it comes to their relationships with each other - mother/daughter, siblings, father/child, husband/wife etc...It is the disappearance of Robert that breaks this cycle and allows them to start to reveal their real selves to each other. I loved it from beginning to end - so cleverly constructed and delivered. Left me mourning the end of a great read...
As for the title - I liked the idea that the story just happens to fall in a time zone that many readers will be able to remember to give it some sentimental/nostalgic value and for those that don't recall 1976 the heat still creates a rise in tension - they can't escape the heat or each other.
on 12 February 2016
Review originally published here: [...]
Set in the blistering heatwave of 1976, Maggie O’Farrell’s sixth novel focuses on the reverberations within a family when its patriarch vanishes. Robert Riordan gets up one morning, follows his usual morning routine, goes out to get the paper – and then is gone. The novel is demarcated with various warnings from the newly-formed Ministry of Drought, giving the reader a sense of how ordinary rules have been suspended, that sometimes people do go mad in the heat. A teenager with a bright future ceases exam revision and instead whiles away her days doing laps of the lake in Hyde Park in a pedalo, the local newsagent starts carrying on with one of the Brownie Leaders and the respectable Mr Riordan disappears, taking his money and passport. Gretta, his wife, calls her children for help. Daughter Monica has ‘a lot on’ dealing with her stepdaughters’ cat. Eldest child Michael Francis has his own problems – he thinks he might be about to get divorced. And then there is the black sheep Aoife, the afterthought child who has taken off to New York and whose current circumstances are unclear.
Like Anne Enright’s The Gathering, this is the story of a family uniting in a crisis – a group of people who don’t like each other very much are forced to work together for a common goal: where on earth has Dad gone? As with so much of O’Farrell’s fiction, secrets lurk beneath the surface and unspoken tensions seethe. Gretta, family matriarch, is an object of puzzlement and anxiety for her children – dependent on pills, too loud, constantly talking and never on point, she is to be protected, sighed over, dismissed – and yet there is the increasing possibility that she knows more than she lets on.
As in After You’d Gone and The Distance Between Us, there are themes of siblinghood and family ties – how far can one ever truly separate from those one grows up with? Is there really any hurt strong enough to knock these ties asunder? Aoife and Monica may not have been on speaking terms for years but Aoife remains aghast at the idea of betraying her sister and the pain of Monica’s disavowal of their shared upbringing mark one of the most painful passages of the novel. Aoife looks at her sister in agony, reflecting on how Monica had cleaned her scabby knees, walking down the street holding her hand, taught her how to put on make-up and yet now stares through her, as if it had never happened. Each of the Riordan children are harbouring their own secret shames, they all have something to hide.
The Riordans are a family out of place – Irish Catholic immigrants living in London. As the daughter of a Northern Irish woman, I felt as though this was a family whose grammar I understood, I recognised the confusion of the second-generation immigrants on English soil. When Michael meets his in-laws for the first time, he has to pause to deconstruct the meaning of the sentence, “If I could possibly trouble you, would you mind passing me the salt?” I know I am not Irish, neither are Robert and Gretta’s children, but in culture, linguistics and dialect, I will never be quite English either. A cursory glance at Maggie O’Farrell’s personal bio reveals her to be in the same demographic.
Many of the characters were tricky to warm to – Michael Francis ‘knocked up a Prod’ while studying for his PhD and mourns the loss of the life he might otherwise have had. Monica grieves for her failed first marriage, even whilst apparently ensconced in rural tranquility in the midst of her second. Claire, Michael Francis’ wife, appears cold and uncaring – although one increasingly sees where she is coming from. Gretta is loud and large and looming – O’Farrell conjures her up vividly as the overpowering matriarch and with the author’s trademark ear for dialogue, I found myself cringing along with her children at her repetitive speeches and martyr-attitude. Still, O’Farrell’s skill is the fact that over time, we come to see beyond the all too apparent flaws and into the person instead.
My personal favourite character was Aoife, the family scapegrace. Born late, wailing and crying, Aoife was a difficult child deemed unteachable by the nuns but O’Farrell reveals her as an undiagnosed dyslexic, struggling as a functional illiterate and desperate to hide her condition from her employer, her boyfriend and indeed anyone she comes into contact with. Despite her rough edges, Aoife is the novel’s compassionate heart, dispensing wisdom to her brother, forgiveness for her sister and understanding for her mother. I wished that the novel had been able to give her greater resolution. Indeed, the story seemed to draw to a close all too soon, with more than one loose end left hanging. Many will see this as allowing the reader to fill in the blanks, but personally I would have liked a little bit more before the curtain fell.
This is a lovely novel – I loved the way that the heat lurked in the background like a silent character, arriving in the opening paragraph ‘like a guest who has outstayed his welcome’ and never leaving. Farrell has established herself as a reliable story-teller but what makes her truly remarkable is her dreamy imagery and apparently effortless prose. I can always picture her characters, they are always convincing and linger in my imagination long after I have closed the book. In Instructions For A Heatwave, we sense inhibitions being dropped in the heat, secrets slipping out and how the heat, oh the heat, can bring stories long left unspoken to the surface. A wonderful book for O’Farrell fans both old and new.