This novel is set during the heatwave of 1976, which I remember very well. Oddly enough, I read the book during recent hot weather, and it made the heat feel even more tangible. The novel centres around the Riordan family. Gretta is the matriarch and, whatever the weather, she bakes soda bread three times a week. Her day starts as normal - she bakes and husband Robert leaves at his usual time to buy a newspapr. He doesn't return...
Robert's disappearance leads to Gretta's grown children rallying round to help. There are Michael and Monica, who are both experiencing marital problems, and youngest daughter Aiofe who lives in New York. This is a novel about family and the secrets, allegiances and relationships which are shared between the different members. Maggie O'Farrell presents a realistic portrayal of a large, Irish Catholic family and a wonderfully evocative portrayal of that never ending summer. I have never read anything by O'Farrell before, but I am sure I will devour her backlist, after this stunning book. As well as being an enjoyable personal read, it would have much to offer reading groups, with lots to discuss, and I enjoyed it immensely.
on 17 October 2013
As a rule, Maggie O'Farrell equals quality in my lexicon: I have devoured all of her novels and waited eagerly for the next. Very few contemporary authors have her command of language, in my opinion - she writes lucidly, often poetically, weaving stories of depth and subtlety with unforgettable characters. But, when I finished reading 'Instructions for a Heatwave', I was left scratching my head and asking 'what was that all about?' I've pondered on it for a couple of days now and am none the wiser.
The references to the 1976 heatwave were in no way integral to the development of the story; in fact, as many other reviewers have said, one could assume the events were unfolding in present day - in the unusually warm summer we've just had - rather than the extreme conditions of 1976. I remember that summer well. So the title was a nonsense.
The plot was thin and loosely held together by characters who were, for the most part, unsympathetic and unlikeable. Of course, it's not necessary to people a story with likeable characters but they certainly have to be believable and none of these were. I found I wasn't terribly interested to discover why most of them weren't speaking to each other at different times - none of the dynamics were explored in depth or with any conviction. In the end, I just hoped they wouldn't find Robert, the father who upped and left with no explanation, for his sake, poor beggar. Very little in the way of satisfactory explication so far as the main thrust of the plot is concerned - the husband/father who walks out without a word to anyone. Odd.
And then, when the novels finishes, an explanation from the author herself about why she wrote the novel. "I didn't intend to write this book. It happened by accident." You don't say. Followed by some black and white photos of Omey Island. Why? Surely the story should be able to stand on its own legs, without props of this kind, from a writer of O'Farrell's calibre? This only confirms to me that she was uneasy about this latest novel - that it required some qualification.
Having said all of that, I must concede that the writing itself had all the O'Farrell hallmarks, her wonderful acuity for evoking language imbued with images and shadows. This earns three stars from me but, sadly, wasn't enough to lift the story out of the doldrums.
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 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 16 July 2014
Wow, what a load of rubbish. It just rolled on and on without any story to grab hold of and descriptions that seemed to be just space fillers.
The story was bare and had as much meat as a skeleton. How this wrangled through the production process is seriously beyond me. Complete waste of money.
on 1 November 2013
Having loved After You'd Gone and really enjoying subsequent novels from Maggie O'Farrell, I was looking forward to this read and was happy to recommend it to the book group as a likely entertaining experience.
I found it impossible to warm to. The heatwave backdrop of the title appeared to add nothing to the plot. The family was tiresome and I felt the whole thing was contrived and slow. I felt I completed reading the book just to get to the end to see if anything interesting actually happened. The characters' names kept leaping out and annoying me before I actually got to them, almost as if I was dreading what they might do or say next. The story of the missing father was unsatisfying and I simply couldn't understand how the reading problem could be missed by everyone who had come into Aiofe's life. I felt little empathy for anyone except Aiofe and overall, for me, the whole story just did not add up to anything. It was a bit like looking forward to a dinner out with good old friends and finding the company boring and the food indifferent. I was hoping for lyrical prose and stunning metaphors, but when such expressions arose they felt clumsy and inappropriate; perhaps it was all there but impossible to focus on due to my growing disinterest as I progressed through the book. Sorry to report that this novel just did not work for me.
on 10 September 2013
It grieves me to give three stars only to a Maggie O'Farrell book. I have read everything she has written up to date and rate her highly. I waited for some time before downloading this book to my Kindle because there were very mixed reviews. I am rather glad that I did because I wouldn't have wanted to pay the original price for it. Were my expectations too high! I don't think so. I just wanted and fully expected it to be as good as everything else she has written. The depth and emotion that Maggie usually brings to her characters, just seemed to be lacking here. If you haven't read her before, I would NOT start wih this one. Any of her earlier books - great!
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 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 24 November 2013
I cannot understand these negative reviews. I thought this book was the best Maggie O`Farrell I have read to date. It is never "boring" or "turgid". On the contrary, there is so much to keep the reader interested, so many characters to explore. She is particularly good at the relationship between parents and their adult offspring, as well as the relationship between adult siblings. She dips back into the past to show how these relationships have formed whilst keeping the main plot, set in the drought of 1976, moving forward in a short space of "real" time. I cannot see that there are any threads left untied or abandoned. At the end of the novel there have been significant changes and realisations, particularly amongst the siblings. Problems have been confronted and there is a sense that things may improve after the reverse diaspora of the journey back to Ireland. A masterly final sentence or two. Splendid novel Don`t be put off reading it by these other superficial comments.