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Instructions for a Heatwave (2013)

by Maggie O'Farrell

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8485718,500 (3.71)98
When a recently retired family patriarch clears out his bank account and disappears during a sweltering summer in 1976, his three children converge on their mother's home for the first time in years and track clues to an ancestral village in Ireland, where they uncover illuminating family secrets.
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Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
In the summer of 1976, England is in the middle of a heatwave that has resulted in drought and water restrictions. Robert Riordan, recently retired, goes out to buy a newspaper and doesn’t return. Gretta, his wife, contacts their three adult children who return to their childhood home. As they try to support their mother and figure out where their father went, they revisit and air resentments and grievances, and reveal secrets.

It is not only Robert that needs to be found. Each of the siblings needs to find him/herself. Michael Francis, the only son, works unhappily as a teacher while his marriage seems to be disintegrating. Monica, who has never wanted children, is married to an older man with two difficult daughters. Aoife, living in New York, struggles as a photographer’s assistant because she is dyslexic, though she has managed to hide her illiteracy from everyone. Monica and Aoife have not spoken in years because of a misunderstanding.

What I found unsettling is the lack of urgency over Robert’s disappearance. No one ever expresses real fear at his vanishing. Wouldn’t someone worry that he was in danger, especially because he has always been so dependable and his behaviour so predictable? His disappearance is obviously a catalyst for the unplanned family reunion and once all are together, their relationships take precedence and what has happened to Robert becomes a secondary concern.

It occurred to me that Robert may have just wanted a reprieve from Gretta. She is loud and voluble and a drama queen. A hypochondriac and devoutly religious, she is difficult and demanding. For the quiet Robert, living with her must not have been easy. It turns out, however, that Robert has a lot of secrets which his family slowly uncover.

O’Farrell excels at characterization. Each family member is complicated and flawed, in other words, very realistic. Each is haunted by his/her upbringing and deserving of empathy; at the same time, the reader will often be frustrated by their behaviour. Once reunited, they fall back into old patterns of bickering rather than communicating.

The use of the heatwave is very effective: “a heatwave will act upon people. It lays them bare, it wears down their guard. They start behaving not unusually but unguardedly. They act not so much out of character but deep within it.” The rising temperatures parallel the increasing family tension. The drought parallels the characters’ feelings of thirst, feelings that they are not being given access to the types of lives they want.

The theme is that family ties may bruise as much as they bind, but it is important to forgive, regardless of the transgressions. Robert’s attempts to forgive inadvertently lead his children to acts of forgiveness.

This family drama has useful instructions for all of us, regardless of the weather.

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Nov 30, 2020 |
The focus of this novel is the Riordan family during the very hot summer of 1976 and is told over four days. The starting point is the abrupt and unannounced disappearance of Robert, the father, who has just popped out to buy a newspaper. Gretta, his wife, Calls her daughter Monica and son Michael Francis, to see if they can explain his disappearance. This sets in train an assembly of the three of them, together with their youngest sister, Aiofe, who flies in from New York at Michael’s summons. With some quite natural and revealing writing, O’Farrell exposes the tension and ill-feeling between them, but also their appreciation of one another, as they attempt to find an explanation for Robert’s behaviour. After a call from a distant relative in rural Ireland who says that Robert has been seen there, the four travel to Gretta’s home village and stay in a cottage where the family enjoyed their summer holidays. Through their conversations, the undiscussed and buried secrets of the family are revealed in a spellbinding examination of family relationships, as together they attempt to resolve their past and present lives.
  camharlow2 | Aug 8, 2020 |
I did not find this as goo as MOFs other books that I have read
Aofie, the character was not credible.
The whole story did not gel and it did not pull together at the end ( )
  karenshann | Dec 31, 2019 |
In Maggie O’Farrell’s suspenseful sixth novel, we are transported back to London in July 1976 during a heatwave. Irish immigrant and recent retiree Robert Riordan has disappeared while on a simple morning errand to buy a newspaper. His wife Gretta claims to have no idea where he has gone. The three Riordan children, Michael Francis, Monica and Aoife, despite their own personal issues and the baggage of long-standing sibling rivalries, answer their mother’s call and return home to help her cope, to try to get to the bottom of what has happened, and, as it turns out, to repair their broken relationships and exorcise ghosts from the past. With seven novels, a memoir, and several awards to her credit, O’Farrell knows the importance of endowing her characters with complex back-stories and rich emotional histories. Michael Francis, a teacher, is contending with the emotional disarray of a man who, having accepted that his failing marriage is his fault, discovers he is helpless to do anything about it. Monica, who has married a man much older than herself who has a family from a previous marriage, is finding the struggle to negotiate her way into the role of stepmother humbling and all-consuming. And trouble-child Aoife‘s life in New York, where she has gone to distance herself from her family’s criticisms and a chequered past, and where she works as a photographer’s assistant, is a constant struggle to function and support herself while masking a humiliating personal secret. Gretta has a disconcerting story of her own to tell, and, as the action proceeds, the entire Riordan clan make startling disclosures and painful admissions, about themselves and about their feelings for each other. Gretta, whom we begin to suspect early in the book knows more than she’s letting on, lets loose with a series of shocking revelations that result in a family road trip and the eventual unraveling of the mystery surrounding Robert’s disappearance. O’Farrell’s exploration of the complicated history of Robert and Gretta and their three children is by and large convincing, though at some point the reader might wonder how many secrets one family can reasonably conceal and still make a show that all is well. Robert himself, along with his motives, remains shadowy, and the heatwave motif wavers in and out of focus. But in the end Instructions for a Heatwave does succeed, and that success is due primarily to O’Farrell’s ability to engage our sympathies for all her characters. Those Riordans may be a messy, muddled, contrary lot with a habit of fudging the truth and nursing more than their fair share of grievances, but when we say goodbye to them, we do so with reluctance. ( )
  icolford | Sep 9, 2019 |
Read during a heat wave. How appropriate. Have read other books by this author and appreciate her ability to create characters. Will release soon. ( )
  bookczuk | Jul 26, 2019 |
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For S and I and J

and B, of course
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The heat, the heat.
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When a recently retired family patriarch clears out his bank account and disappears during a sweltering summer in 1976, his three children converge on their mother's home for the first time in years and track clues to an ancestral village in Ireland, where they uncover illuminating family secrets.

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