04 Aug / Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell
Alas, this was the last Maggie O’Farrell I had left. Ever since discovering The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (my first and still favorite, I admit), I’ve moved her books to the top of the top of the To-Be-Read piles with regularity. Now that I’ve finished, I suppose that will make room in my brain (or ears) for other TBR titles, at least for a few years. Years. Well, that merits at least another ‘alas.’
London in 1976 might be in the midst of a heatwave, but Gretta Riordan isn’t going to let the stifling temperatures keep her from baking fresh bread. As he does every morning, her husband Robert tells her he’s off to the newsagents to pick up a paper before they eat. He’s already laid out the dishes, butter, marmalade: “It is in such small acts of kindness that people know they are loved.” But then Robert doesn’t return.
Still disbelieving, Gretta must let the children know of their father’s disappearance; he is not lost and he has not met with an accident, she knows, because he’s taken his passport, as well as withdrawn bank funds. Once a close, contented family, the five Riordans have scattered through the decades. Michael Francis, who lives nearest, has just finished another tedious year teaching high school, knowing full well he should have been a lauded professor had he not made the proverbial mistake of getting his girlfriend-now-wife pregnant before either was ready. Monica is barely enduring her stifling second marriage, forced to play stepmother to two unyielding girls. Aiofe, the much younger youngest, is across the Pond in Manhattan; she’s a photographer’s assistant in love with her renegade soulmate, but she suffers on the verge of losing all because she’s unwilling to admit her illiteracy.
Called home, each adult must pull his or herself out of lethargy and face mistakes, past and present, in order to move forward. Michael Francis must cease the blame and allow his wife her own life, Monica must stop punishing Aiofe for a betrayal she never committed, and Aiofe must realize that admitting the truth doesn’t mean losing independence. Even Gretta has shattering secrets to divulge, the release of which might lead the family back to reunion and so much more.
Interestingly enough, for the first time in many, many titles, Heatwave seems to have finally released veteran narrator John Lee from my own imposed pairing with all titles Orhan Pamuk (even when I’ve read Pamuk on the page, I ‘hear’ John Lee!). Certainly that’s testimony to O’Farrell’s convincing storytelling. So much so that if Lee decides to take on O’Farrell’s next, my ears will be waiting impatiently!