Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

MaggieOFarrellI had never read any novels by Maggie O’Farrell and this is not a book that I would have chosen, but for the fact it was book of the month for my local book group. Others in the group had read Maggie O’Farrell’s work before, so I was quite looking forward to Instructions for a Heatwave. It is set in the summer of 1976 which was, indeed, a very hot summer. My sister and I spent it in Paris, France and were almost permanently dehydrated! However, beyond this and occasional references to the temperature, there are not any instructions for a heatwave that I noticed.

Maggie O’Farrell was born in Northern Ireland in 1972 but grew up in Scotland and Wales. She was educated at Cambridge University and has taught creative writing. her contemporary fiction often explores themes including the relationship between sisters is one, another is loss and the psychological impact of those losses on the lives of her characters. Both of these and good old fashioned Roman Catholic guilt feature in Instructions for a Heatwave.

The story commences  London during the record-breaking heatwave of 1976. The matriarch of the Riordan family is Gretta. Her husband has just retired and she finds he has cleaned out his bank account and vanished.

So, for the first time in years, Gretta asks her children to come home and help her find their father. She has three heatwaveadult children: Michael Francis, a history teacher whose marriage is failing; Monica, whose blighted past has driven a wedge between her and her younger sister, Aoife. Aoife is the youngest, whose new life in Manhattan, New York City is elaborately arranged to conceal a devastating secret: she is dyslexic and cannot read.

Instructions for a Heatwave is a story that stretches from the Upper West Side of New York to a village on the coast of Ireland. In this novel, Maggie O’Farrell explores the mysteries that are inherent within families, and reveals the fault lines over which the Riodan family, and perhps all of us build our lives.

I enjoyed Instructions for a Heatwave. It weaves an unforgettable narrative of a family falling apart and coming together with hard-won, life-changing truths about who they really are and the family ties they share. I have no idea what this novel has to do with a heatwave, but I quite enjoyed the book.

Valerie Penny



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