7 February 2013

Review: Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

"It's July 1976. In London, it hasn't rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he's going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn't come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta's children - two estranged sister and a brother on the brink of divorce - back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspect that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share."

I'm a big fan of Maggie O'Farrell, I would rank After You'd Gone as one of my all time favourites. So I was thrilled to hear a new book announced for March 2013 and nearly died of excitement when I was offered a proof copy on Twitter. Heatwave more than lived up to expectations and is up there with my favourite Maggie O'Farrells. The writing is just beautiful and the characters heartbreaking. Whilst there are plot twists and turns, it relies less on a big reveal than some of her previous stories and more on the intricate exploration of a broken, messy family.

First Line: "The heat, the heat."

Why I read it: I was beyond excited to get a proof copy of Maggie O'Farrell's new book from the wonderful Georgina at Headline Books.

Who I would recommend it to: First and foremost fans of her previous books, I would say this is most similar to The Hand That First Held Mine. If you like lyrical, melancholy books with broken but disconcertingly relatable characters. Fans of Kazuo Ishiguro.
Instructions for a Heatwave is the story of the Riordan family who are thrown back together after the disappearance of their father, Robert, at the very beginning of the novel. The story revolves around them trying to fit back together as a family in order to find Robert despite the secrets and the betrayals of the past. I must admit, having read all of O'Farrell's previous books, that I was expecting some huge twist near the end in the style of After You'd Gone or The Hand That First Held Mine. This book does have a reveal but it is far less geared towards it so don't come at it expecting a big, clever twist - this is more about subtle revelations.

The two real strengths of the book, for me, are the beautiful lyrical writing and the characters of the three siblings who are so flawed but uncomfortably sympathetic. There was something in all three siblings that I related to and I'm not going to unburden my soul by telling you exactly what resonated with each character but for all three there were sad, beautiful moments when a thought, or an action, or a comment really resonated with me. One of the things I adore about reading is that your own experience of reading a novel is never going to be quite like anyone else's, or your own at a different time in your life, as it is so dictated by your own personal relationships and experience and this really struck a chord with me for whatever reason. The youngest sibling, Aoife, is the heart of the story really and I think that character that people will most relate to and her struggles and mistakes but I found Monica to really get inside my head. As we find out more about why she is the way she is, it is just heartbreaking - her determination to not be a disappointment to her mother against all the odds, her resolute hiding of her hurt just quietly destroyed me and it was Monica who I really wanted to gain redemption out of the whole family.

The book quietly twists and turns as we discover the histories and problems of the family. It made me think of the famous opening to Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in it's own way." Which is, I suppose, an ongoing theme for O'Farrell. There are fights and revelations as well as those moments of support and that undeniable familial bond. O'Farrell's writing is just beautiful, her language soars and the book is full of lovely, carefully put together moments. The writing gets into your head and unnerves and moves you, much like Kazuo Ishiguro's writing does. Overall, I would say that this isn't O'Farrell's strongest plot to work from but despite that, this is probably my second favourite of her novels, beaten only by After You'd Gone, due to the sheer beauty of the writing.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't read the whole review because I want to let the novel surprise me but I read far enough to see that you like it, and I'm now even more excited about this! After You'd Gone is also one of my novels. Can't wait to get my hands on this.