★★★★ (4 stars)
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
Why did I read this book?
Because I liked all Maggie O’Farrell’s other books! (Though to be honest I didn’t feel that enthusiastic about this one, largely due to its premise, and renewed my library copy quite a few times before settling down to it. Once I did start, I read the whole thing quite quickly and felt I’d been a bit silly in putting it off for so long).
Favourite thing about the book:
Maggie O’Farrell’s writing, so absorbing, atmospheric and flowing, with a perfect eye for detail.
+ The novel’s characters, whilst not that exciting, were well written. I also enjoyed reading about characters at various life stages (Aoife is in her early/mid twenties, Micheal Francis and Monica about a decade older and Gretta in her sixties or seventies), and those who had made different life choices to each other (e.g. accidental family man Micheal Francis and child-free Monica).
+ Relatedly, the relationships between the characters, especially the sibling characters, were well drawn.
+ I enjoyed the exploration of the family’s Irish heritage and it reminded me of the British-Italian family in (bit like the italian family in The Distance Between Us).
+ I didn’t guess Gretta’s secret at all!
Least favourite thing about the book:
It didn’t feel very original, particularly when I have read all but one of her previous books and Instructions for a Heatwave rehashed so many of the same themes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – Maggie O’Farrell is good at what she does and you know what you’re getting when you pick up on of her novels – but it does make it hard for me to see this novel as anything special.
– Nothing really. I’ve partly given this book 4 stars rather than 5 as I couldn’t personally relate to this book or the characters (certainly not in the the way I could to The Hand That First Held Mine, for example), but that doesn’t mean others won’t.
(In case anyone is wondering, I’d place this as my joint third favourite Maggie O’Farell book: I liked it less than The Hand That First Held Mine and After You’d Gone, about the same as The Distance Between Us and more than The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox).
Aoife, by far.
I didn’t like Michael Francis or Monica very much, which probably influenced how I felt about the novel as a whole.
I recommend this book to:
~ People who like Maggie O’Farrell’s other books, or just family dramas in general.
~ People who have Irish heritage (like me, though mine is more distant than that of the characters here).
~ Those who want to feel nostalgic for the 1976 heatwave (I wasn’t born yet then, but it is rendered so vividly that I imagine others would appreciate it).