Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Instructions for a Heatwave

Instructions for a Heatwave
Maggie O'Farrell
London, Headline, 2013, 324p

On this gloriously warm weekend, I found myself reading a novel about the infamous heatwave of 1976. Sat in the sun, I was taken from London to New York to Ireland, invited into the lives of the Riordan family on the day their father leaves the house and never returns.

Michael Francis, Monica and Aoife haven't spoken to each other in years, having taken themselves world apart. All three have angry memories about their childhoods, and have chosen to avoid their siblings in their adult lives. But when their mother, Gretta, calls to say their father has disappeared, they must put the past behind them to bring him home. 

This is the most recent book I have read as part of the staff book club and, having never read any Maggie O'Farrell before, I had expected it to be one of those self-indulgent stories about middle class families full of secrets. And yes, whilst it is about a middle class family with secrets, it is brilliantly written and full of warmth. 

O'Farrell's characterisation is astonishing - the plot plays out over just three days, leaving her plenty of room to develop fully rounded and realistic individuals. Gretta, for example, is a lonely and desperate woman, raised Irish Catholic and shocked by some of the choices her children have made. Her pride is overwhelming; but what I love most is the fact O'Farrell has made her one of those mothers who would take to an empty room if she thought there was a chance someone was listening. 

The Irish Catholic heritage has a strong impact upon the family - strangely, it makes them all proud and guilty in equal measure. But the fact that the Riordan family are so multi-dimensional makes for an interesting and reflective novel - one that I particularly enjoyed reading whilst sat in the sun. 

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