Thursday, 28 January 2016

Instructions for a Heatwave || Maggie O'Farrell

‘The heat, the heat.’

‘How is it possible, when there are so many people in the world, for a life to be so shockingly solitary?’

Maggie O’Farrell is a household name these days. A reliably brilliant author, she writes real people and real emotions, none more so than in Instructions for a Heatwave.

This novel has been languishing on my kindle for a couple of years now. I bought it spurred on by rave reviews, but inevitably it slid further and further down the pile.  A couple of months ago it was announced that O’Farrell’s next novel (This Must Be the Place, coming in May), is forthcoming so I decided it was high time I got around to it. Suffice to say it didn’t disappoint and I am now very eagerly anticipating her new novel.

The heatwave is the perfect crucible in this novel. Everything feels tense and claustrophobic and the people are strained, tired and irritable.  Emotions are running high and when Robert Riordan, devoted husband and father of three, goes out one morning for the paper and doesn’t come back, everything seems to collapse. His wife Gretta claims not to know where he’s gone, but in a family where half-truths are regularly told and miscommunication is the only communication, it is hard not to wonder if there is something she knows.

Perhaps my favourite thing about this novel is the multiple narrative strands which delve into each character’s background. These strands are seamlessly woven together until they merge at the climax. I love a novel with multiple stories anyway, but I think O’Farrell does it particularly well. She hints at secrets and slowly reveals them across the strands until we somehow know the family inside out and also not at all.

It feels like all the characters are striving for some sort of fulfillment, whether from their jobs or their relationships, but family ties, miscommunications, and struggles with their own identity more often than not get in the way.

I was unnecessarily worried that the ending would be disappointingly anti-climactic, that Robert, who barely features except as shadowy figure from the past, would suddenly be written into the novel disjointedly in an attempt at resolution. I had no need to worry because the ending is in fact perfect.

In three words: tense, enthralling, uplifting

Have you read this? If so, did you love it? If not, do you think you might?

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