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on 4 June 2014
It is 1976 in London, and a heatwave hits the city. Set against this larger scene is the story of the Riordans of Gillerton Road, whose 3 adult children have flown the proverbial nest, but who are brought back together to the family home when their father, the recently retired, normally reticent and reliable Robert goes round the corner for a newspaper and inexplicably disappears. His wife, Gretta, calls on their children in desperation, while maintaining that there was nothing amiss to bring about this sudden departure. As the narrator helpfully explains partway in the novel, "strange weather brings out strange behaviour, As a Bunsen burner applied to a crucible will bring about an exchange of electrons, the division of some compounds and the unification of others, so a heatwave will act upon people. It lays them bare, it wears down their guard. They start behaving not unusually but unguardedly. They act not so much out of character but deep within it."

With this conceit, Farrell delves into the complex relationships in the family and the secrets that simultaneously bind and sever their bonds with one another. Without stereotyping, each of the characters are fully and convincingly fleshed out. The children, Michael Francis, the earnest underachieving eldest son, Monica, the level-headed favourite, and Aoife (pronounced Ee-Fah, the author helpfully offers only after three-quarters into the book), the wayward youngest, are so individualised, with each of their childhood backstories interwoven so tightly together, the reader shares the anxiety of their coming together after certain estrangement, and winces when misunderstandings are unresolved and divisions deepened.

I was made to feel most strongly about the estranged relationship between Monica and Aoife that is left to fester because of a suspected betrayal that is un-verified for many years. When Monica's door is literally slammed on Aoife's face, she recalls how she used to call for Monica "when she was little and Monica was minding her, their mother out somewhere, and she couldn't find her, had lost her in the house.... Monica would always come. Always. And she'd always be running. Running down the stairs to her. Running to catch her up in her arms, to hold her face against the soft wool of what she called her sweater set. I wasn't far away, she'd say, not far at all."

In such a taut novel, what felt strange to me was the surprising absence of Robert from the narrative - the character who incites the whole story - but then perhaps that makes perfect sense, because Farrell shows how sometimes a gaping hole in the family portrait forces you to examine the rest of it in greater detail in order to find the missing piece.
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on 25 April 2014
As stated before, my golden rule for book success is whether I feel like hoying it across the room at the end (or even before the end if it really sucks). I read this on Kindle so the chucking was lodged in my imagination. The chucking also happened very close to the end which at least meant that I was enjoying it enough to keep reading but that the ending was so irritating that, having got that far, the disappointment was palpable.
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on 30 April 2017
Read all of Maggie's books. This one, while not one of her very best, is still a good read.
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on 15 June 2017
Everything Maggie O'Farrell writes is engaging and well-crafted. This is no exception.
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on 18 March 2017
Pointless story. Contrived to such a degree that you can actually see the blank story board pinned up in the author's study.
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on 19 March 2017
it was ok
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on 5 June 2017
It's gentle and a bit sprawling and if you're looking for a big dramatic plot, this is not that, but it's well written with relatable characters.
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on 17 December 2015
Very disappointing. I couldn't engage with the characters and gave up after 80 pages. A long time since an author has had that effect on me
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on 1 December 2013
I was totally engrossed! Couldn't put it down. The characters are sympathetic and there is hint of everyman in each of them. A family who clearly love one another yet at times fail to communicate, who fall into the roles expected of them when together, yet resent doing so. Brilliant!
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on 23 November 2014
A mixture of great characters and was touching without being too much. A really lovely story. And a happy finish !
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