“Strange weather brings out strange behavior. 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.” – from Instructions For A Heatwave
On Thursday, July 15th, 1976, during a typical breakfast with his wife, Gretta, at their home in London, Robert Riordan leaves to get the paper and doesn’t return home. He takes their money out of their bank account and seemingly disappears. Over the course of the next few days all three of Gretta’s children return home to assist in finding their father, a near miracle in itself as the three siblings haven’t had much to do with each other over the last few years.
The oldest, Michael Francis, is consumed by his own family issues after making a terrible mistake that might cost him his wife. The middle sibling, prim and bossy Monica, is living an imperfect life of her own, in a second marriage with two step daughters that despise her and unable to face the mistake she made in her past that led to her not speaking to her younger sister, Aoife. And then there is Aoife, the independent and demanding youngest sibling who ran away to New York to escape her smothering family and to try and find a life where her own little secret can stay hidden away from everyone, including the family she continually runs from.
As this shattered family searches for Robert in the midst of the worst heatwave any of them have dealt with they will no longer be able to keep all of their secrets to themselves and will have to come clean and be honest with each other, including Gretta who has been hiding the biggest secret of them all, one that will change the very dynamics of this family. It is only with this naked truth that any of them can hope to come back together and be a family again.
I absolutely adore anything Maggie O’Farrell writes and Instructions for a Heatwave is no exception. She takes this fictional family, one that could seemingly be any typical Catholic family, and exposes them to their barest bones and turns the very ordinariness of their lives into compelling and dramatic prose. It so perfectly highlights the fact that everyone keeps secrets from even those they claim to be closest to and that it is only when that wall of secrecy is finally brought down that they can truly be as close as they might wish to be. The ending is rather abrupt but even this seems a plus as it is clearly the journey that this family goes on and not the ultimate destination that is meant as the heart of the story. Their growth is what is important, not the outcome.
I would recommend Instructions for a Heatwave, and really any of Maggie O’Farrell’s writing, to anyone looking for a compelling story that brings exquisite twists and turns to what appear to be very common place lives. She is truly one of my favorite authors of all time and her newest does not disappoint.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Knopf. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.