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Customer Review

94 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Strange Weather Brings Out Strange Behaviour', 28 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Instructions for a Heatwave (Hardcover)
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.

4.5 Stars.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Sep 2013 07:17:28 BDT
Moonlit says:
Good review - thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Sep 2013 13:46:13 BDT
Susie B says:
Hi Moonlit. Thank you for your kind comment - it's much appreciated. If you do decide to buy the book, I hope you enjoy it. Best wishes, SusieB.

Posted on 3 Jan 2014 05:57:48 GMT
Rowena says:
Very good review - but it would be so much better for readers not to have the story told in the review, but to read the book for themselves.

Posted on 22 Feb 2014 12:35:06 GMT
Sue Ryan says:
Thank you for such an effective review. It has told me what it is about, your assessment of the quality of writing and enabled me to decide whether or not I wish to read it. And I do so wish. Thank goodness for Kindles.

Posted on 27 May 2014 18:25:53 BDT
L. J. Dell says:
Brilliant review, many thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 May 2014 20:29:25 BDT
Susie B says:
Thank you to Sue Ryan and to L.J.Dell - your comments are much appreciated. I sincerely hope that you both enjoy the book as much as I did. Best wishes. SusieB.
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