Tuesday 22 October 2013

Review: Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

Instructions for a heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell
Publisher: Headline Publishing
Release Date: 01 January 2013
Rating: *** and a half

Back cover blurb: It's July 1976 and London is in the grip of a heatwave. It hasn't rained for months, the gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife he's going around 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 may have gone. None of them suspects that their Mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share.

I came across this book via a Twitter book club of all places. It was one of 'Weekend Reads' chosen books of the month back in September. I was lucky enough to win a beautiful first edition copy bound with ribbon, which I've lovingly placed on my book shelf- and promptly downloaded the kindle (for iPad) version as I didn't want to ruin it.

After quite a bit of deliberation I've given the book 3 and a half stars. I didn't feel it was amazing enough for 4, but it wasn't 'bad' enough for 3. In fact, it wasn't bad at all, I just felt it was a bit lacking. Maybe I had read too much about it before hand. I'm not sure. I did wonder if I'd read a little too much of the crime/thriller/mystery genre recently and half expected something different from the "disappearance". But no, I think maybe it was the ending that left me disappointed. It was a little bit of an anti climax compared with the pace and structure of the novel before it.

For those who've not read it, Instructions for a Heatwave centres around housewife Gretta who is devastated by the disappearance of her husband one morning in the heatwave of 1976. He leaves the house to go and buy a newspaper, and doesn't return. Robert barely ever leaves her side, so Gretta knows deep down that something is drastically wrong. Maybe more than she is willing to admit to.

On the surface Gretta is a typical Irish mammy fussing over her grown up children and insisting that everything will be okay. But will it? Exactly what is she hiding from them?

Roberts disappearance does bring the scattered family together, the eldest son Michael Francis from across their home city, daughter Margaret from Gloucestershire where she is living with her second husband and the youngest daughter Aoife from New York. It is not a happy reunion. Thrown back together in a crisis, the family are dysfunctional to say the least. But then what family isn't?

There are lots of flash backs in the book, which are kind of crucial for understanding how it all pans out in the end, but it can get a little confusing at times. I really liked Aoife, I kind of felt sorry for her, although I suspect that I shouldn't of. I liked Michael Francis too and initially I thought Margaret was great, but then she showed a side of her character that I didn't like so much. I'm not sure I should've liked Gretta as much as I did, particularly after the "secret" is exposed, but I do understand why she did what she did.

For me this makes the ending disappointing I felt it could have been elaborated on, I was a little disappointed, even though it was a happy ending if sorts, I felt it left a few things unanswered. Having said that I did enjoy the book. I've not read any of Maggie O'Farrell's before, and I think I would give the author another go.

You can buy Instructions for a heatwave online from Amazon and all good book shops.

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