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Sunday, 15 December 2013

Maggie O’ Farrell - Instructions for a Heatwave

reviewed on the bookshow by Ro Bennett 19th Dec 2013
This is a really good value holiday buy @ £3.80 paperback and £2.99 Kindle.
It is July 1976, and London is in the grip of an intense heatwave. All over the city, people are coming unhinged, and the Riordans are no exception. Retired banker Robert has left to buy a newspaper and never returns. His wife, Gretta, calls their three children, who converge on the family homestead for the first time in years. Michael Francis, full of regrets for the decisions he has made, is worried sick that his marriage is over; uptight Monica, trapped in a second marriage with two stepchildren who hate her, is not speaking to the younger sister she practically raised; and Aoife, who has taken herself off to Manhattan but cannot outrun the dyslexia that has made her working life a virtual hell. As the siblings seek out clues to the whereabouts of their father, O’Farrell, in her sixth novel, draws a beautiful portrait of family life. The story really blossoms in the second half, when the Riordans end their search in Ireland, where the family’s secrets and private feuds come raging forth so that the true healing can begin.

I really liked this book. It was a relaxing, absorbing read which was easy to concentrate on while I was travelling around various places on the mainland. 
I find Maggie O’Farrell very perceptive. Her characters are well portrayed and I really felt drawn into their personalities and found their complex interactions interesting and convincing. The author has obviously carefully observed people and is adept at describing the parent-child dynamics and sibling rivalry - the jealousies, the misunderstandings, the hurts, resentments and grievances that are part of family life - how the family members drift back into their practised and familiar roles when reunited. Gradually the reader understands the underlying causes of the tensions between them all as the layers of their past lives are revealed. 

I felt so sorry for Aiofe who had grown up in an era when dyslexia was not diagnosed or recognised. This had led to challenging behaviour as she was growing up, which had an adverse effect on the whole family. Now as an adult she still doesn’t know what is wrong with her but just struggles painfully with her embarrassment and shame and the repercussions of trying to hide the fact that she cannot read from her lover, family and employer. 

I really wanted to know how it would all unfold, why Robert had disappeared - I kept trying to guess what his reason could be. I was pretty sure I’d cracked it  but all of my ideas were wrong. The author skillfully builds up the feel of the stifling heatwave as it drags on and on, a perfect backdrop for the increasing tension and drama developing in the Riordan household. Crackling with unresolved issues and their aftermath just as a storm builds up! Excellent!

I have enjoyed all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books and this is no exception. It’s a well written, gripping book, well worth reading.

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