She’s already written five books and her last novel won the U.K.’s coveted Costa Novel Award, but if Instructions for a Heatwave is any indication, Maggie O’Farrell is not ready to rest on her laurels. Here, O’Farrell returns to the subject that has formed the core of her fiction—families and the secrets that both bind them together and threaten to unravel them—and concocts another spellbinding multigenerational saga that will sweep readers away into another time and another life.
It is the summer of 1976, and record temperatures have many Londoners hot under the collar. The Riordan family is thrown into particular upheaval when it is discovered that their patriarch, Robert, has gone missing, having left on a mission to fetch the morning paper, never to return. Only something as serious as their father’s disappearance could bring the three wayward Riordan children back home together, and when their mother, Gretta, begs them to help her track down their father, they are powerless to ignore her call. And so it is that for the first time in years, three adults, who face one another as strangers, find themselves under the same roof, cautiously navigating the familial fault lines. Digging into their parents’ past, the siblings grasp the family’s roots, which send them on a journey back to Ireland. The weather may be cooler in their ancestral homeland, but back on the soil where it all began, it doesn’t take long before the secrets and old grievances that have long been simmering finally come to a boil.
O’Farrell captures the fractious dynamics of the Riordan family with such precision and energy that readers will feel they are right in the thick of the squabbles and spats. With prose that is lyrical yet light, she imbues each of her characters with remarkable humanity. Piercing in its insights and deeply absorbing, Instructions for a Heatwave is literary fiction at its very best.