Tag Archives: maggie o’farrell

In May I read…

This has been a good reading month, an interesting and absorbing reading month. Here’s my review:

Shamim Sarif – Despite the Falling Snow I only realised when I got this home that it’s a film cover; I picked it up because it sounded intriguing. A spy-love story from Krushchev’s time, interspersed with some modern day reminiscences, just my cup of tea. And on finishing it, I realised I’d read Sarif before – her marvellous book The World Unseen. I liked this, though perhaps the language was at times a little too flowery for my liking. I spotted the ‘twist’ fairly early on, so early that perhaps it wasn’t supposed to be a twist? but this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book which sheds light on an unknown era and a time that perhaps isn’t examined very much these days. I also liked the main character Alex and his niece, though I remember thinking some of the other supporting characters were a bit odd?

Sarah Winman – A Year of Marvellous Ways Marvellous Ways is an old lady, a recluse who lives in a caravan in 1940s Cornwall. It was always going to be important to have this set in the past as the magical reclusive element probably wouldn’t have worked otherwise. We live in distinctly un-fairytale lands these days and are the poorer for it. Anyway, this is a sweet enchanting tale about connecting with each other, myths, mermaids, a good sourdough starter and of course love. I’m wary of magical realism but when it works, it’s a lovely genre.

Sarra Manning – After the Last Dance

I really wanted to like this but I struggled to be bothered about anyone in it, especially the modern part of the story. I’ve not put my finger on why it didn’t work for me so I won’t go into too much detail. Give it a try, it might just be me.

Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

My reading group’s choice for this month was something I’ve wanted to read for a long time and not got round to. I started out really enjoying it – the observations and carefully crafted stories of a group of poor, dispossessed people in Deep South America were really absorbing. For those of you who don’t know, the story involves a deaf mute man who lives and works in a small town and somehow becomes a confidant to a range of people, all of whom project their own ideas onto him. This is largely because he gives very little back except smiles and hospitality. He can lip read and write notes but communicates little. The only time we see him care about something is his fellow deaf mute friend, who is an unstable alcoholic and is eventually taken to a care home. The ending is where the book fell down for me – I didn’t feel it was true to the character and had to ask if I had projected what I wanted onto the character as well and if this was done on purpose by McCullers, or was it just an oddity?

Maggie O’Farrell – This Must Be The Place

I wasn’t going to buy this in hardback until I saw it and couldn’t resist. It came on holiday with me last week and I’ve not really stopped thinking about it since. I’m sorely tempted to pick it up and re-read it immediately because I loved it so much and I fear that by racing through it I missed so much, and because I’m not ready to read something else yet. In basic terms, this is the story of a marriage, about two people and their relationships – with others, with each other and with their children. It features stories and perspectives from many characters, and there are a number of experimental chapters – one is written purely in the second person which is always brave – and another moves the plot along purely by pictures and captions of an auction lot. Experimental things worry me but this all worked, it all hung together beautifully partly because of the quality of O’Farrell’s prose and because somehow she’s got this invisible thread pulling it in. The other thing to say is that the characters were so well drawn – both the main protagonists are flawed and at times downright unlikeable but of course all the more real. Even the people who appeared in the book for no longer than a chapter (especially Rosalind who I liked very much and would love to know what happened to her next. I hope she had a ball, whatever it was) were well fleshed out. It’s a book that sparked all kinds of thoughts, ideas, and emotions in me as I read. In short, I loved it.

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