Rated Reads

Instructions for a Heatwave

by Maggie O'Farrell

Rated: High

One day in the middle of Britain’s great heat wave of 1976, Robert Riordan walks out the door of his house and doesn’t return. His wife, Gretta, is beside herself, but she calls her son to ask for some help. Michael Francis calls his younger sister Monica, and everyone tries to contact the youngest sister, Aoife, who’s been in New York for a few years and essentially out of touch altogether.

This crisis is how readers are introduced to the Riordan family, and we read about each member of the clan, piecing together their current situations, their personalities, their challenges, and their back stories. Most importantly, we get a feel for their interactions with each other, for those complex ties between family members that include annoyance, anger, confusion, misunderstandings, and love. We learn a bit about Gretta and a little bit about Robert, but we learn the most about their children. And by the end of the book, the mystery of where Robert went is solved, even as the grown children learn some shocking information about their family and start to mend some of the cracks in their sibling relationships.

I’d enjoyed O’Farrell’s previous books, The Hand That First Held Mine and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, so I expected good things from this latest. I am a bit of a fan of gothic tales and stories about tightly held family secrets, so I enjoyed those books in part because of those elements. I’d expected a bit more of the “big secret” element in this book, and while it was there, it was really just a small part of the plot. This book was more just about family relationships. Even though it wasn’t as much what I was hoping/expecting, it was well written, and I was glad to watch the characters in this novel grow and make progress.

Rated: High, for eight uses of strong language, as well as some moderate and mild language and a few uses of British and Irish bad language. There are a couple of brief sexual references.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

2 Responses to Instructions for a Heatwave

  1. David Murphy says:

    For a refreshing review of O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave, click on http://davidmurph.wordpress.com

  • Instructions for a Heatwave
  • by Maggie O'Farrell
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: