Book Review – Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

My first book review on my blog and I decided to choose Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell.


Amazon says the book was released in February 2013 and it has already garnered 122 reviews at the time of writing this entry. I read an uncorrected manuscript proof copy so it may have some slight alterations to it now (there were a couple of typos in my copy but I am sure they got picked up by proof readers/editors).

The story itself is pretty simple; it is the baking hot summer of 1976 (I don’t remember it seeing as I wasn’t born until 1991) and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta he is popping down the shop to get the paper. He doesn’t return. She gathers her family together (one son and two sisters) and they go off in search of her husband/their father.

There are various things going on in the lives of the children, who are actually all grown up. Michael, the son, is in a pretty unhappy marriage to Claire who seems to be going through some kind of mid life crisis of her own. They have two children which is the only thing keeping them together.

Monica, the eldest daughter, lives with a man called Peter who has two daughters from a previous marriage. The children hate her, and Peter is pulled between them all not wanting to side with anyone but blood is thicker and all that. She separated from her own husband after he discovered she had done something terrible (read the book to find out what), and blamed Aoife for telling him which is why they no longer speak.

The youngest daughter, Aoife, lives in America. She works for a photographer and is involved with a man who is constantly on the run from the authorities for draft dodging. She returns home and has to confront her family that she walked out on after leaving school with no qualifications.

Phew…suddenly it seems to be getting complicated, but it isn’t really. The story is quite well written. I say quite well because this isn’t my favourite O’Farrell book. There were a couple of times when I had to re-read chapters because I couldn’t work out what was going on. I also felt the end of the book arrived too quickly. There was massive build up throughout the story, going into the lives of the individuals in the family, and then boom it all ended rather abruptly. Though saying that I guess that is the beauty of fiction like this; you can use your imagination for what happens next. If you have the inclination. I didn’t warm enough to Gretta to care. Or Monica really. They come across as tough, Irish women (maybe Irish women are tough?) that I wasn’t that fussed about. I found myself feeling a bit sorry for Michael, and Aoife…the jury is out on that one.

I really wanted to love this book and was so excited when I was given this copy by my best friend. I like it, but I don’t love it. O’Farrell is a wonderful writer and it is a good book; it just isn’t one of her best. Still worth a read, though. It is the sort of book you could easily devour around the pool on holiday and not feel as though you wasted a day.

Now comes the tricky bit. A score. It had a couple of typos, but this was a proof copy so I have to trust they were picked up and corrected (though to be honest, more and more traditionally published books are coming out with errors in these days). I had to re-read a few chapters as I just didn’t get them. The end felt a bit rushed to me. Overall the writing is good, though, and I would recommend it to people.

SCORE: 3 out of 5


The delightful Maggie O’Farrell has her own website here. Go and visit it now. Go on. Are you still here?