Instructions for a Heatwave Paperback – 6 May 2014
- Publisher : Vintage; Reprint edition (6 May 2014)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 319 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0345804716
- ISBN-13 : 978-0345804716
- Dimensions : 13.21 x 1.78 x 20.32 cm
- Customer Reviews:
"Warmhearted. . . . Work[s] out who people really are, how ordinary lives can conceal extraordinary stories." --The New York Times Book Review"Perhaps a perfect book. . . . Proceeding at a stately and crisp speed through a fully rendered world, grappling at all times and in an original way with the fascinating problems of our time, rushing head-long--and yet staggering almost drunkenly when necessary--towards a stirring and wondrous conclusion." --The Los Angeles Review of Books "A thoroughly engrossing and suspenseful novel. . . . O'Farrell, in this beautifully written tale, gets the psychological nuances just right." --Anita Shreve "A narrative of extraordinary power. . . . Big-hearted, psychologically complex, and utterly gripping from page one." --Maria Semple, author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette
"A beautiful book. . . . Spellbinding." --NPR "O'Farrell has done it again. . . . There is a deliciousness to this novel, a warmth and readability that render it unputdownable and will surely make it a hit." --The Guardian (London) "A rich, barbed interplay among siblings, who gibe, snap, and snipe as they go through their father's things, slowly teasing out one another's long-buried secrets." --Entertainment Weekly, Grade: A- "Unputdownable. . . . There's always something so tender and true in Maggie O'Farrell's writing; a lovely ability to observe the smallest, most ordinary detail of family life and gild it with grace and significance." --Marie Claire
"Once again, O'Farrell demonstrates her mastery at depicting strained relationships, skewed family loyalties and the just reachable light at the end of the tunnel." --Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Superlative. . . . A Mike Leigh-style extravaganza of reckonings and reconciliations." --Vogue
"Well worth seeking out. . . . It might sound a little grand to wax lyrical about 'the power of the novel' and all that, but you know, there is such a thing, and this book taps into it." --PopMatters
"A beautifully written and perfectly observed story of family, secrets, and forgiveness." --J. Courtney Sullivan "Just the kind of family drama I love. . . . Stylish, funny, smart, and skillfully written, and I could not put it down." --Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins "An accomplished and addictive story told with real humanity, warmth and infectious love for the characters. Highly recommended." --The Observer (London) "O'Farrell is a deliciously insightful writer. . . . The final scenes of the family's trip to Ireland is as perceptive on the jaggedness of family forced together as Colm Tóibín's The Blackwater Lightship." --The Independent on Sunday
"Exceptionally good." --The Telegraph (London) "Thoroughly absorbing and beautifully written." --Daily Mail
"O'Farrell is hard to beat. Anyone looking for a British equivalent of Anne Tyler need look no further." --The Scotsman
About the Author
Maggie O'Farrell is the author of After You'd Gone, winner of a Betty Trask Award; My Lover's Lover; The Distance Between Us, winner of a Somerset Maugham Award; The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox; The Hand That First Held Mine, winner of a Costa Novel Award; and Instructions for a Heatwave, shortlisted for the Costa Award.
Review this product
Top reviews from Australia
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
It was sad and poignant and funny. All the characters were flawed. I found it an enjoyable read, however I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.
If you have an e-reader, you may want to get a sample before buying.
There’s Michael Francis, father of two, a frustrated history teacher who lives nearby with his wife Claire, trying not to face the fact his marriage is crumbling. Michael Francis is the peacemaker, futilely trying to bring his feuding sisters together. There’s Monica, the put-upon middle child who can read her mother’s mind and won’t acknowledge her younger sister Aoife (pronounced as-fee, I think!) because of an unnamed wrong committed long ago. Monica has left her first husband and now lives in a Gloucestershire cottage she hates, with a man whose children don’t love her.
Maggie O’Farrell has written five previous novels, of which I’ve read and enjoyed two.
This is the story of the relationship between the three siblings and their mother, told through the prism of a family who still calls itself Irish but has been raised in England. Its strength is the characterisation of each child. I found Aoife, returned from New York where she has fled to escape the family, the most compelling. The story of her illiteracy was heartbreaking and the rift with her sister both believable and sad.
The siblings individual tales unfold as backstory over the hot days as they search for clues to their father’s whereabouts. Maggie O’Farrell’s style is of densely packed narrative detailing the minutae of past events, which for the most part works well, although at times I wished for the characters to be quiet. She also juggles four points of view without confusing or making them jar at all, the mark of a very experienced writer.
I loved her prose and lush attention to detail – the ‘slight mist has gathered on the underside of the cling film’, and Aoife’s wise sisterly response to Michael Francis’ marriage troubles:
‘A job something? A marriage something?’ Aoife asks. ‘A marriage something.’ ‘Ah.’ It is a sound so full of wisdom, so empty of judgement that he cannot help but tell her everything..’
There’s a scene on the Irish ferry that I particularly loved, where Monica notices her mother humming. She knows ‘that the humming signifies Gretta mending her mood, much as a roofer might repair a faulty roof‘.
One quibble I had with the plot was that the resolution of each character’s troubles, and the central mystery, were arrived at a little too easily with no strong cause and effect. It left me feeling a bit dissatisfied with the ending. The heatwave, which English people alive then are still talking about, isn’t really used as a motif in the way it could be. The high temperatures (32 degrees for two weeks!) doesn’t seem to have affect the characters in any material way.
But aside from that, I really enjoyed the psychological exploration into the minds of these flawed but endearing characters.
Top reviews from other countries
The first chapter is superb: we see the mother alone in the house; we see that she is greedy, constantly eating, spooning jam out of the pot because she ‘suffers from weakness’ if she doesn’t eat. This last is an example of her easy self -indulgence, her self-delusion, her hypochondria. And as she sits there eating & reflecting in a self-centred way, we see her false piety, her hypocrisy, her total lack of any intellectual capacity or empathy. She lives according to a set of pious homilies & prejudices, & uses manipulative behaviour to control her children, & perhaps her husband. It is hard to find any redeeming feature.
Clearly, Maggie O’Farrell can write fluently: the words pour off her pen; I might even say gush. What I feel about this book is that here is a very practised writer, who can reel off this fluid prose & concoct a seemingly plausible & credible narrative about family life, & in particular Irish family life. But somehow it’s too practised, & ultimately formulaic, so unsatisfying.
It is difficult to justify my criticism of the book, because if I think about the individual parts, for example the stories of the (grown up) children & their relationships with each other, their mother & in the wider world, I can see it is all skilfully done. And she has some beautiful turns of phrase. But as a whole it is all too pat.
Added to this is the fact that although we witness their individual anxieties etc, the overarching tone is one of sentimentality, increasingly evident as the story progresses. Certain key events test credulity, for example the father going off - disappearing - for what turns out to be a rather unconvincing reason, although I can see how the author has tried to make it credible. Yes, these are Irish people in the thrall of church/ social pressures, but for me that doesn’t gel as reason enough. But why exactly did he go without a word to anyone; it is all a bit vague.
As others have pointed out, the heatwave theme doesn’t really work. At times I think she evokes the heat well, but it doesn’t suffuse the book sufficiently to justify it as a main theme. The water shortage announcements that precede sections of the book are artificial & add nothing, clearly only there to justify the title of the book - “Instructions”. But worse is the metaphor about a Bunsen burner causing a reaction, acting as a catalyst to cause a change in the nature of things. I know others liked this but to me it was a clumsy attempt to explain these rather unbelievable events; particularly the father’s desertion, when surely it ought to be enough to say people were adversely affected by the heat. But that wouldn’t quite justify him doing something so apparently out of character, so we are treated to this obfuscation about Bunsen burners.
The narrative follows the changes in the main characters’ attitudes & relationships with each other - with the exception of the mother perhaps, although we do see a more caring side in the last chapter. But it is all too saccharine.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Overall, this is superior pulp fiction, of the saga variety.
There are some really funny little remarks and asides in it, I really like the humour, and a couple of sniffy moments for me as well. I hated Michael Francis always being referred to as such......I can't be doing with doubled-up Christian names, it always sounds daft to me and a real mouthful. I howled when Aoife remarked that he'd "knocked up a Prod" and the image of Vita licking her aunt as well. Loved the 'Sunday-school stain' story. I had to google divided skirts as I was clueless, though.
I noticed one rogue hyphen in photog-rapher's but that was the only mistake throughout so to be highly commended for this alone.
It was different to what I'd expected but I've still spent a highly enjoyable couple of days reading it.
One morning in the middle of the famous 1976 heatwave Robert, a retired bank manager, goes missing. His wife Gretta eventually manages to communicate the fact to their son and two daughters, who rally round to support their mother and attempt to locate their father.
On several technical fronts this book did not quite work for me. The central prop of the book is the disappearance, suddenly, without explanation, of Robert. Robert himself is a shadowy figure in the book, far too insubstantial to do the job the author requires. His absence should be a howling vortex, a black hole of potent emptiness which pulls the rest of the characters inexorably into it. But in fact the other characters – even Gretta, for whom her husband’s disappearance is reduced to an annoyance at not being able to find the shed key – don’t seem very anxious about him, there is no panic, only mild curiosity and a sense of overwhelming inconvenience. In itself, his disappearance seems unlikely. What at first seems like a spur-of-the-moment decision turns out to be planned; why didn’t he tell Gretta at least that he was going away for a few days, even if he didn’t explain the reason? Robert’s disappearance is a narrative ploy, a catalyst for bringing the rest of the family together. While they overcome their differences in order to work together to find him, this only proves that he isn’t very important as a unifying, cohesive force in the family at all.
Each of Gretta’s children are dealing with issues, secrets of various kinds which, boiled down, all stem from the domineering, hard-line Catholicism and inflexible nature of their mother. They hide things, they feel bad about things, because she would be angry, disapprove or fail to offer support. Unfortunately the Gretta which is presented to us in this book is neither domineering, hard-line nor inflexible. She comes across as eccentric, well-meaning but perhaps rather loud and embarrassing, definitely damaged, perhaps even suffering from mental health issues. I felt sorry for her although at times she did make me laugh.
The book is set against a heatwave and in places this is beautifully described, but it doesn’t really impact the story other than the characters feel hot. The plot calls from them to travel to Ireland and I must say that the refreshment of the ocean crossing did impact the plot and the atmosphere. The eponymous Instructions for a Heatwave which preface each chapter play no role at all in the story, and seemed like a device.
All in all I would say that strong writing and vivid characters proved too weighty for the flimsy structure of this book, they deserved better. If I had been Ms O’Farrell’s editor I would have suggested a substantial beefing up of Robert’s character, making him the mainstay and stronghold of the family, and a significant hardening of Gretta’s, making her into the doughty, waspish and domineering woman her children all imagine her to be. Finally I would have ditched the title and thought of something better.
With this conceit, Farrell delves into the complex relationships in the family and the secrets that simultaneously bind and sever their bonds with one another. Without stereotyping, each of the characters are fully and convincingly fleshed out. The children, Michael Francis, the earnest underachieving eldest son, Monica, the level-headed favourite, and Aoife (pronounced Ee-Fah, the author helpfully offers only after three-quarters into the book), the wayward youngest, are so individualised, with each of their childhood backstories interwoven so tightly together, the reader shares the anxiety of their coming together after certain estrangement, and winces when misunderstandings are unresolved and divisions deepened.
I was made to feel most strongly about the estranged relationship between Monica and Aoife that is left to fester because of a suspected betrayal that is un-verified for many years. When Monica's door is literally slammed on Aoife's face, she recalls how she used to call for Monica "when she was little and Monica was minding her, their mother out somewhere, and she couldn't find her, had lost her in the house.... Monica would always come. Always. And she'd always be running. Running down the stairs to her. Running to catch her up in her arms, to hold her face against the soft wool of what she called her sweater set. I wasn't far away, she'd say, not far at all."
In such a taut novel, what felt strange to me was the surprising absence of Robert from the narrative - the character who incites the whole story - but then perhaps that makes perfect sense, because Farrell shows how sometimes a gaping hole in the family portrait forces you to examine the rest of it in greater detail in order to find the missing piece.