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Sophisticated intelligent impossible to put down Maggie O'Farrell's beguiling novels After You'd Gone winner of a Betty Trask Award; The Distance Between Us winner of a Somerset Maugham Award; The Hand That First Held Mine winner of the Costa Novel Award; and her unforgettable bestseller The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox blend richly textured psychological drama with page turning suspense Instructions for a Heatwave finds her at the top of her game with a novel about a family crisis set during the legendary British heatwave of 1976 Gretta Riordan wakes on a stultifying July morning to find that her husband of forty years has gone to get the paper and vanished cleaning out his bank account along the way Gretta's three grown children converge on their parents' home for the first time in years Michael Francis a history teacher whose marriage is failing; Monica with two stepdaughters who despise her and a blighted past that has driven away the younger sister she once adored; and Aoife the youngest now living in Manhattan a smart immensely resourceful young woman who has arranged her entire life to conceal a devastating secret Maggie O'Farrell writes with exceptional grace and sensitivity about marriage about the mysteries that inhere within families and the fault lines over which we build our lives—the secrets we hide from the people who know and love us best In a novel that stretches from the heart of London to New York City's Upper West Side to a remote village on the coast of Ireland O'Farrell paints a bracing portrait of a family falling apart and coming together with hard won life changing truths about who they really are

10 thoughts on “Instructions for a Heatwave

  1. says:

    The long hot summer of 1976 has become legendary in the UK This may cause a degree of eye rolling to some goodreads friends from warmer climes as what it amounted to was three or four months of nice sunny weather above average temperatures and very little rain but to us this had historical significancel In all fairness some rivers and reservoirs ran dry and there was water rationing for a while with standpipes in some areasThis is the backdrop to Instructions For A Heatwave Maggie O’Farrell’s sixth and Booker nominated novel a beautifully written slightly claustrophobic study of the Riordan family a family with Irish roots living in London At the heart of the tale is a mystery Robert a uiet man dependable and predictable recently retired from his job at the bank leaves the house as he does every morning to pick up the papersHe doesn’t return Gretta his wife is confused and distraught She eventually calls their grown up children with the news Peter Aoife and Monica arrive to search for clues and unpick the past each sibling immersed in their own fears insecurities and failingsIt being a Maggie O’Farrell novel the writing is wonderful and the characters stroll off the page and become very real The narrative wasn’t as ambitious as This Must Be The Place my favourite O’Farrell so far controversial choice and I still have Hamnet to read but this is still a very fine novel

  2. says:

    45 stars It’s a commonly told story both in fiction and in real life a crisis in the family brings siblings back to their childhood home and back to the memories of the past It’s usually a struggle to sort things out as secrets and resentments unfold However there is nothing common about how Maggie O’Farrell draws you into the lives of her characters in this drama of the Riordan family The air is stifling and not just because of the heat wave that London is experiencing in 1976 Gretta is Irish and religious and pops pills for her headaches loves to eat is unassuming and she doesn’t understand why her husband Robert has left disappeared without a word When her three adult children come home to help her through this and try to find out what happened to their father they find some clues that might lead to him Gretta is forced to reveals a secret of their past as well as some things about their father that they didn’t know Her children though have problems of their own Michael and Monica have troubled marriages and Aiofe the youngest has distanced herself from the family both geographically and otherwise She too has kept a secret from her family and now tries to keep it from the people in her life in New York from the man she cares about They return to Ireland in hopes of finding Robert and as I was reading I couldn’t help but hope that they can also find forgiveness and the unconditional love that bound them together as a family I found the same fabulous writing here that I’ve found in all of the other novels by O’Farrell that I have read The narrative allows the reader into the thoughts of the characters with flashbacks remembering things that happened The tone the descriptions always perfectly on base and while my experiences may be different from some of her characters I get them and I feel for them even if they are flawed aren’t we all ? She’s one of my favorite writers

  3. says:

    A uiet solemn novel that sifts through the whys and the wherefores of a father who steps out to buy his morning newspaper and does not return home  As it slowly soaks in that he is really gone the mother summons their adult children home  Ah the dreaded family conference  It's odd too because Father has always been the dependable one with Mother being the mercurial parent  Meanwhile the siblings are all dealing with significant problems of their own and the timing of this family crisis is not idealThe writing put me in the mind of Anne Tyler but with a definite Irish flavor  The title doesn't seem to have a great deal to do with the story but I applaud its originality  I am sorry to leave the Riordan family and look forward to reading of Maggie O'Farrell's novels

  4. says:

    Why have I not read Maggie O'Farrell before?I don't know 'cause she's gooooood Like sit in the bathtub until you're a prune good Miss your stop on the train good Refuse to split the driving time on a weekend road trip good I may or may not have done all of these things while reading this book In all honesty this is a pretty standard Family in Crisis novel The basic plot is a rather familiar one husband leaves one day and doesn't come home mother reuests the presence of her far flung adult children who are each so burdened with their own little dramas that their relationships with each other have disintegrated O'Farrell has set her version of these events in the midst of the 1976 heatwave that sent London into a drought at a time when the Irish were still viewed suspiciously and traditional values clashed with modern attitudes in the worst way Gretta is the mother with a larger than life presence that her children find embarrassing than anything Michael Francis the eldest is struggling to keep his marriage together despite his resentment that is has cost him all of his professional aspirations Monica the favorite lost her first marriage to an ill kept secret and now feels beleaguered by how much her second husband's daughters resent her Aiofe the baby has run off to New York after a falling out with Monica and struggles to hide the fact that she can not read Robert the absent father has long used his bookish nature and difficult war experiences as an excuse to avoid discussing his eually difficult personal historySo I saw Jami Attenburg speak at the Gaithersburg Book Festival earlier this spring and she mentioned that she had been asked to blurb this book It's her blurb that ultimately sums up the best thing about this book It's just the kind of family drama I love Nobody gets off easy in it but everybody gets treated with compassion”I love love loved these characters They're complicated and flawed but entirely realistic and deserving of empathy Each character made me in eual parts root for them and exclaim What the fuck dude? They were so so human Then there's the fact that O'Farrell could write the face off just about anyone else currently sitting pretty in the new release bins I've read a long string of meh books over the last few months and I was long overdue for a book that I could not put down Her prose just rolled around in my head and I didn't want it to stop I was impressed by the way that she laid out tiny little ironies the illiterate character with the name no one can properly pronounce just waiting to be picked apart and mined for meaning yet never so in your face that I wanted to pat her on the head and say We get it sweetieMy one complaint the only thing that I can see being a problem for other folks is that it feels as though O'Farrell rushed through the ending in order to tie every loose thread up but didn't uite address everything I got to the end and I wantedjust a little The bows she tied everything up with were a little too vague Regardless this book is fantastic exactly what I needed

  5. says:

    A solid gripping family saga A thoroughly enjoyable read One of those books that makes living a joy Packed with back story and intrigue THE BLURB The stunning new novel from Costa Award winning novelist Maggie O'Farrell a portrait of an Irish family in crisis in the legendary heatwave of 1976 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 sisters 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 suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share Maggie O'Farrell's sixth book is the work of an outstanding novelist at the height of her powersI needed this novel right now I will read this author again

  6. says:

    My rating 2 of 5 starsA copy of Instructions for a Heatwave was provided to me by Knopf for review purposes 'Odd that your life can contain such significant tripwires to your future and even while you wander through them you have no idea'The story itself starts off at a slow and leisurely pace that doesn't ever uite pick up speed but the writing itself was uite gripping The characters are also very drab and almost boring but they're written so well that they somehow manage to be intriguing nonetheless The three grown up children of the missing father are the center of the story despite the fact that it was their father that went missing their father that was initially the reason for this story Him going missing was simply the catalyst to bringing these three children back together after many years of separationAs the story progressed I became less and less interested in why their father disappeared and even with the odd assortment of drama every character managed to possess The ongoing family drama seemed stereotypical than interesting and while the characters themselves may have been intriguing at first That certainly didn't last You know those characters in stories that make idiotic choices or choose to withhold some vital information and you can't help but scream Just TELL SOMEONE yet they don't and it just produces drama and continues to cause problems? Well that happened And it was ridiculous and failed to garner any sympathy from me Also the ending was completely preposterous and was actually uite laughable Hint Your uestions will likely not be answered Simply put this sweeping family drama only managed to be mediocre due to the lackluster cast of characters and their completely avoidable drama Yet another highly anticipated summer read that failed to meet any of my expectations

  7. says:

    45★First Before anything else Thank you Maggie O’Farrell for this and you’re welcome anyone else like me who has never got this right either“ ‘Mum’ Aoife says again ‘It’s me’‘Aoife?’It strikes Aoife in that moment that her mother is the only one who can properly pronounce her name The only person in whose mouth it sounds as it should Her accent—still unmistakably Galway after all these years—strikes the first syllable with a sound that is halfway between E and A and the second with a mysterious blend of V and F She drives the name precisely between both ‘Ava’ and ‘Eva’ and ‘Eve’ passing all three but never colliding with them Aoife she says exactly and like no one else”Disclaimer I am predisposed to like Maggie O’Farrell’s stories They are inhabited by real people haunted by their pasts and their upbringings They may not know if you asked them what’s wrong why are you the way you are but O’Farrell knows and shows us Each member of this family has their own story as well as their shared story A man arriving home uietly lamenting his all too short bachelorhood finds his little kids waiting for dinner but nothing’s ready Again Then up comes his little girl “knocking her curly head into his thigh like a little goat He is again and for a moment completely the person he is meant to be a man in his kitchen lifting his daughter into the air He is filled with—what? Something than love than affection Something so keen and elemental it resembles animal instinct For a moment he thinks that the only way to express this feeling is cannibalism Yes he wants to eat his daughter starting at the creases in her neck moving down to the smooth pearlescent skin of her arms”What parent hasn’t said to a small child I could just gobble you up? But O’Farrell says it better This book is about what happens when this man gets a phone call that his mother is home alone and frightened because his father has disappeared Michael Francis Monica and Aoife all return home from their own precarious lives to attend to their difficult demanding mother who has been lonely for years as an unwelcome Irish woman in England Yesterday’s refugeesMichael Francis lives nearby his dreams of being a professor in America abandoned because “He’s gone and knocked up a Prod” as Aoife so delicately put it While their Irish Catholic background colours the story it isn’t the whole storyMonica is divorced oh the shame of it and living with a new partner and his kids She doesn’t want kids – she was nine when her mother had a difficult pregnancy with Aoife and then Aoife was a noisy crying complaining fractious baby whom only Monica could manage So manage she did For years Forever it seems And she's told Aoife thisAoife never coped with school never learned to read and has fled to New York where she works for a photographer and is falling for a nice guy who’s hiding from the draft She has hidden her disability but it’s kept her on edge always She is cut from a different cloth and an interesting one it is tooThese are Gretta’s troubled children who have come home to investigate their father’s disappearance but who are out at the moment so the house is empty I completely relate to this“It’s this kind of emptiness she likes—signs of people around their discarded possessions left as a reassurance of their return Monica’s jacket on a hanger Michael Francis’s car key on the hall table that scarf of Aoife’s draped over a peg”England is in drought suffering a heatwave and the heat permeates every movement of this family as they look for clues to find their father Each resents being there and they fall back into their old patterns of parentsibling bickering as we do Each thinks he or she has troubles than anyone until a family bombshell is dropped late in the storyThe first half of the book moves very slowly – the heat perhaps? – as we learn about the characters And I did get frustrated for a while Still I’ll be left thinking about these people for a long time I suspect

  8. says:

    This book dithers like an elderly woman pondering what flavor of Cesar dog food to feed to her spoiled schnauzer It dithers like my last rambling sentenceThe main reason I finished reading the novel was to see if anything mind blowing actually happened Hell I would have settled for nose blowing or blink inducing To me the huge secret that matriarch Gretta Riordan held back from her children had the strength of a butterfly burp Perhaps its a culture thing and I'm out of the loop But to me Mammy Gretta is pretty much a domestic monster It's a wonder her adult children still speak to her The characters all deserved to be hit in the head by a shovel at one time or another If I was related to these people I'd disown them in a blink Once in a while I'd experience a flash of sympathy for their largely self created plights but the flashes died uick deaths Mostly I reached for the shovelWell I need to backtrack to one character Aoife the youngest of the three Riordan siblings and the only one who had the sense to run away from her family Aoife put the Atlantic ocean between her and her family She's one of the reasons I finished the book I just hoped to hell she would tell SOMEONE about her serious problem and get help Then again here I also blame Gretta the domestic monster for not helping her difficult child move past her learning disability At least Aoife's story does have resolution In short the writing was engaging For me aside from Aoife the impossible selfish characters and dreary storyline dragged down the novel

  9. says:

    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 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 returnRobert'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

  10. says:

    35 stars rounded upThis is yet another book that is well written and has all the ingredients for a great read but fell a little short I enjoy novels featuring family dramas dysfunctional families and complicated sibling relationships This book has all that in spadesWhen their father Robert disappears the adult Riordan children gather in their hometown and with Gretta their mother try to piece together the clues and find him Along the way long held family secrets are revealed and misunderstandings and grievances are aired And while I don’t need a book’s ending to be neatly tied in a bow to deny the reader some type of resolutionclosure to the entire premise of the novel felt a little like cheatingI did find it amusing to call 90 degrees a strange heatwave when 90 degree summer days with heat indexes in the triple digits are the norm for me