Review: Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

I was walking to work through a university campus the other morning, wearing a tatty pair of sandals I can’t be bothered/ can’t afford to replace and listening to my ipod on shuffle. On came Britpop favourite Nice Guy Eddie by Sleeper and I sang to myself as I made my way down the road. It then occurred to me that I was doing exactly the same thing 20 years ago. Does nothing change?

It’s this kind of thing that I admire in other writers. It’s all very well writing tutors and those who post up writing tips on Twitter talking about giving your character seismic shifts in understanding as they progress through the book but in real life most of us are the same bewildered pi-eyed lunatics we were years ago.

Luckily we have Maggie O’Farrell to show us how it’s done. If you’re at all interested in the dynamics of family life, sibling relationships, and making the same mistakes over and over again, then this may be the book for you.

It’s 1976 and it’s bloody hot. There is legislation in place to help people through the water shortages. One morning one man sets off from home and doesn’t come back. His three children each make their way home to help their mother discover what has happened to him and each bring their own problems with them.

What I liked most about this was that, despite recreating the family unit, each of the problems were solved in some way by the characters on their own. They all need each other, to annoy and rub up against each other, but they don’t share their issues. They go off and do something about them. And in doing so, they remained at heart the same bewildered pi-eyed lunatics they were when they all lived under the same roof.

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell is available to buy in paperback

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