Monday, March 4, 2013

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

Maggie O'Farrell was born in Northern Ireland and moved in early childhood to Wales and then Edinburgh, when asked in interviews whether she feels Scottish, British or Irish she usually replies all of the above, although Scotland is home. She has written some fantastic novels set in Scotland but with Instructions for a Heatwave she has finally written a story about an Irish family with some events taking place in Ireland. In a recent interview she said that she hadn't written about Ireland before, as she had left at such a young age, so perhaps she had nothing new to add. She couldn't be more wrong. The book is a carefully crafted exploration of the lives of the Riordan's a London Irish family coming to terms with their father's disappearance in the heatwave of 1976. Gretta is the matriarch, a gloriously written Irish Mammy that many readers will find instantly recognisable, unusually for a Maggie O'Farrell novel there are laugh out loud moments as Gretta questions her wayward daughter's behaviour with characteristic Irish Mammy subtlety "Would you like the loan of a hairbrush?" she enquires. Maggie O'Farrell has in the six novels she has written explored the various ways in which families, in particular women interact with each other; she has become a master of this art. Aoife and Monica are two sisters who have not spoken in years. Gretta is a mother who will talk about anything except the really important things and Michael Francis is a thwarted academic whose wife prefers her Open University friends company to his. All three siblings return to the family home to try and discover what has happened to their father and it seems Gretta may know more than she is saying. This is a novel by a master storyteller at the height of her powers. I will be shocked if it does not win prizes. The writing is exquisite and as an examination of families and relationships it puts so called masters like McEwan and Tóibín in the ha'penny place. 
Instructions for a Heatwave is out now in hardback from Tinder Press a brand new imprint from Headline Books. Check out http://www.headlin see the great fiction you can expect from them this year. Thanks so much to Georgina Moore, Publicity director at Headline who kindly sent me a copy of the novel to review.


  1. Very nice review. I've enjoyed this author and look forward to reading this book via your recommendation. Deb/TheBookishDame

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