Thursday, August 01, 2013

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell
Copyright 2013
Alfred A. Knopf - Fiction
290 pp.

She rented a one-room walkup in which everything was something else: the tiny bathtub masquerading as a counter in the kitchen, the bed hiding upright in the wardrobe like an assassin.

~p. 73 of ARC (changes may have been made to the final print version)

Early morning in Gillerton Road.  The loamy not-quite dark peculiar to big cities is only just giving in to light.  The brick terraces are still in shadow, the sky is the color of old milk and the trees along the pavements have gathered up the remaining gloom into their branches.  The previous day and the day yet to come hang in a balance, each waiting for the other to make a move.

~p. 103 of ARC

It is 1976.  In the midst of a heatwave in London, Gretta Riordan's husband goes for his daily walk and doesn't return.  Robert is a creature of habit and a kind and loving man.  His sudden disappearance, followed by the discovery that he's cleaned out his bank account is shocking.  After a distraught Gretta informs her family, her grown children all return home one by one to help figure out what has happened and locate their missing father.

From the cover:

As the siblings tease out clues about their father's whereabouts, they navigate rocky pasts and long-held secrets, until at last their search brings them to their ancestral home in Ireland, where the truth of their parents' lives -- and their own -- is suddenly revealed.  Wise, lyrical, instantly engrossing, Instructions for a Heatwave is a work of exceptional intelligence and grace from a writer at the height of her powers.

My thoughts:

Because I'd just exited a book I absolutely could not bear to put down, I wasn't "instantly engrossed" in Instructions for a Heatwave, although I suspect that it would have grabbed me sooner at just about any other time.  It took a couple days before I managed to shake the characters from Is This Tomorrow out of my head and get involved with the Riordans.  But, I kept reading in the hopes that the characters  in Instructions for a Heatwave would pull me into their world and about 1/3 of the way in I did become thoroughly immersed in the story. Instructions for a Heatwave is a work of skilled, elegant writing with excellent characterization and an extraordinarily satisfying ending, definitely recommended.  This is my first Maggie O'Farrell book and I will seek out more by the author.

Cover thoughts:

You may have noticed this photo in my sidebar:


The cover image at the top of this post is the final American cover.  The ARC I received was actually rather plain, just a white cover with a photo of a redhead (the author's photo, near as I can tell).  Occasionally, if I like a different cover better than what I've got, I'll go so far as to print out a copy of the alternate cover and replace the cover I dislike.  That's just one of my little eccentricities; I like a pretty cover.  So, I printed out the British cover, which I think is absolutely gorgeous and a total grabber, re-covered the book and photographed it while reading.  I love bright, colorful covers. The illustration of a key on the American cover is relevant.  When Robert disappears, he has the key to the family's shed in his pocket. But, I found the key image frightfully dull.  I would look right past the American cover and pick up the British version if they were on the same display.  

My thanks to A. A. Knopf for the advance reader copy.

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Speaking of covers, I've noticed a trend toward white covers with very little on them except the title. I hate those books, especially since my blog's background is white (like yours). I hate 'em. Here are two examples of this pet peeve:

    1. The interesting thing about plain covers is that their boring look can absolutely kill sales potential. I know because I worked in an outlet bookstore that got remainders, overruns, books that didn't sell. On stock day, my boss and I would unload the boxes and sort before hauling them out to the shelves and he noted that plain black and plain white books might as well not even be printed. He'd sort through the boxes and as he pulled those out he'd say, "Junk. Junk. Junk. What are they thinking? This will never sell!"

      I do prefer to put a pretty cover image up at my blog, if possible, although I usually try to find the American cover and at least include it (as I will with Burial Rites -- which has a gorgeous Australian cover and a boring American one).


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