REVIEW: Instructions for a Heatwave

Instructions for a Heatwave

Sofia review Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave .

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that left me feeling quite so empty and pleased at exactly the same time.

Instructions for a Heatwave tells the story of an Irish family left reeling after their father goes missing, set against the backdrop of a heatwave in 1976. One sweltering morning Robert leaves his family home, as he always does to get a paper and simply doesn’t come back. His wife Gretta and children, Michael-Francis, Monica and Aoife – who as adults all have problems of their own – are left to pick up the pieces and figure out where he is. It soon becomes apparent that their Mother is hiding something, a long held secret that could hold the key to finding him.

Instructions for a Heatwave

It’s a strange story and it’s a beautifully told and wonderfully complex one to. It’s an exploration of a very flawed family, of the secrets they keep and mistakes they make.

I loved getting a glimpse in to the character’s backgrounds, particularly the siblings; Michael’s marriage is falling apart and working a job he despises, Monica is married to a man who doesn’t really care with two step-children who hate her and Aofie has been living in New York completely detached from the whole family for years. Gretta tells of her struggles as a young Irish Catholic in a time of conflict, her back story was particularly enjoyable.

Author Maggie O'Farrell and her mate
Author Maggie O’Farrell and her mate

A large part of Aofie’s story is that she has dyslexia but will not tell anyone, this was both heart breaking and fascinating to hear how she goes about her day to day life praying nobody notices and the little tricks she’s learnt to keep it hidden.

Everybody gets a look in as most chapters and occasionally paragraphs switch from each person’s perspective. Everyone apart from Robert, which is where some of my frustration lied with this book. You learn a lot about people but considering the story is centred on Robert going missing you only get minor details until towards the end when you learn the terrible secret.

Maggie O'Farrell

So, empty and pleased? Pleased because this was a fantastic story to tell and a pure joy to read. Empty because the terrible secret wasn’t all that terrible although the context of the family being Catholic in the 1970s is important. There are lies and deceit but the final scenes are bordering on unbelievable. Reactions don’t feel quite right for the characters and I just sort of sank when I finished it. Perhaps a good thing because I basically just wanted to know more and not have the story end.

However, I thoroughly recommend this if you love good, solid storytelling and definitely make up your own mind about the ending.

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