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Instructions for a Heatwave (2013)

by Maggie O'Farrell

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9685918,964 (3.71)110
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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» See also 110 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
The Irish-ness of my ancestry loved the descriptions of Ireland in this book. The part of me that values family responded to the sadness of lies between family members that destroy their relationships. Too bad that only in fiction do these monstrous mistakes come out right. ( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
Three grown siblings return home to help their mother when their father goes missing. The son fears he is losing his wife as she returns to education and forms her own friends. Aoife ties herself in knots hiding her dislexia, and the third child feels a stranger in her own marriage, disliked by her step-children. All confront their problems as they return to their childhood holiday-home in Ireland. Beautifully written with a cast of believable, if not likeable characters. ( )
  LARA335 | Mar 4, 2022 |
I enjoyed this. As usual, O'Farrell is a master of characterization, but the ending was WAY too hasty with too many threads left unresolved or open-ended. ( )
  MuggleBorn930 | Jul 11, 2021 |
You can't go wrong with O'Farrell. ( )
  3CatMom | Jun 25, 2021 |
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). ( )
1 vote Schatje | Nov 30, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
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For S and I and J

and B, of course
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The heat, the heat.
Quotations
Gretta sits herself down at the table. Robert has arranged everythg she needs: a plate, a knife, a bowl with a spoon, a pat of butter, a jar of jam. It is in such small acts of kindness that people know they are loved. (p. 6)
Conversations with his mother can be confusing meanders through a forest of meaning in which nobody has a name and characters drop in and out without warning. (p. 38)
She had that washed, tremulous feeling you get after a bout of crying. Like a London street after the cleaners had been down it; dark, wetted, cleansed. (p. 70)
Strange weather brings out strange behaviour. As a Bunsen burner applied to a crucible will bring about an exchange of electrons, the division of some compounds and the unification of others, so 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. (p. 119-120)
Silence, thick as fog, rolls in from the landing. Gretta feels that she could put out her hand and touch its cold form. (p. 201)
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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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