The stunning new novel from Costa Award winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell: a portrait of an Irish family in crisis in the legendary heatwave of 1976. It’s July 1976. In London, it hasn’t rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round 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 might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share. Maggie O’Farrell’s sixth book is the work of an outstanding novelist at the height of her powers.
What did WE think?:
CHRISSI: Was the use of different points of view effective?
BETH: Definitely. Personally, I love it when we hear different points of view in a novel. It makes the story much more interesting, and allows us to understand why a particular character behaves the way he/she does. In Instructions For A Heatwave, we hear from all the siblings in turn, and gain an insight into their lives and their relationships, but I would have loved to have more time focused on the mother, Gretta, as I found her such a fascinating character.
BETH: What did you think of Gretta as a character?
CHRISSI: I found Gretta to be a larger than life character. I was surprised as I expected her to want to talk through her problems, and if I’m being a bit mean, I expected her to want sympathy from her children. I guess she got their attention by making them come home. I don’t think Greta had truly accepted what had happened.
CHRISSI: Was there enough about each character?
BETH: I think it was quite equally distributed between the siblings, Monica, Aoife and Michael but as mentioned in the previous question, I would have loved to learn more about the staunchly Irish Catholic mother Gretta, and the disappearing father Robert. Although perhaps the fact that we didn’t learn too much about him made him more aloof and mysterious as a character? I’m not sure, but it certainly was intriguing.
BETH: Discuss the relationship between all of the siblings, did this feel true compared with your own experiences as a sibling?
CHRISSI: I think the family represented in this book are a stereotypical Irish Catholic family. I think the book dealt with differences between siblings really well. There was obvious tension between the siblings, which of course, happens in families. I think as they got older and spent time apart from each other, they grew as people, and were able to come together and try to sort out their differences and move forward from it. I know from a personal point of view, sibling rivalry does definitely occur. I think as you get older, your viewpoint changes, you can reason more and feel more able to be in a position to discuss differences now they’re in the past. Of course, there are some things that happen between siblings that can’t be sorted, but I definitely thought that this book was a true reflection of what happens in families.
CHRISSI: What do you think the significance of the heatwave is?
BETH: I’m wondering if the author is trying to tell us that people do strange things in a heatwave? People always say: “Oh, it’s the heat!” to justify their behaviours at times don’t they? I am too young to remember the heatwave that the author is writing about in 1976, but I listened to an interview with the author on the Richard and Judy bookclub podcast and apparently she talked to a police detective who told her that they had a surge in missing person cases when there is hot weather… how strange!!
BETH: How did you feel Aoife’s difficulties were dealt with through the novel?
CHRISSI: I thought they were dealt with satisfactorily. However, I would’ve liked more emphasis on it, but that’s probably because I’m an educator myself, and I think it’s an important issue that should be addressed and sensitively handled.
CHRISSI: Did you guess what had happened between Monica and Aoife?
BETH: I don’t think I did. I thought it might have been a case of sibling rivalry or jealousy? Their relationship is incredibly tempestuous, but without giving anything away and looking back on the novel, we are left a trail of breadcrumbs to follow.
BETH: What did you think of the ending?
CHRISSI: Considering the amount of family drama, it all seemed to come together towards the end. I’m not sure if that’s totally believable.