The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for coping with a hot British summer
Ailment: Coping with a hot British summer
Cure: Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell
A few weeks of unusually intense heat have had a weird effect on us as a nation: the pace has slowed down, dozy smiles have appeared on our faces, and the pervading mood is no longer one of resigned despondency but cautious optimism. This sea change in British consciousness is a joy to behold.
But what if it gets any hotter? Maggie O'Farrell's powerful novel is set during the British heatwave of 1976. It opens on the tenth continuous day on which temperatures have remained above 90°F. The heat "lolls heavily on sofas and chairs" like a "guest who has outstayed his welcome". Swarms of red-backed aphids appear, sticking to suncreamed limbs and disappearing into cyclists' open mouths.
Gretta is baking the soda bread that she has made throughout her marriage, not letting a little thing like a heatwave change her habits. Robert, retired, still goes to get the paper every day at 6.45am. But on this particular morning, he goes out and does not come back.
Gretta's gradual panic, followed by her inklings of where he could be, make the book compulsive reading. Meanwhile, Gretta's three grown-up children continue to sink a little deeper into their own intriguing dysfunctions – Aoife, so dyslexic as to be functionally illiterate, Monica, in love with a married man, and Michael Francis, who finds himself unable to follow when his wife begins moving into new, more glittering circles. As the thermometer rises, the need for revelation becomes more urgent; but when the pressure finally breaks, will the family recover too, along with the parched earth and melting pavements?
Escape the mounting heat in your own world by immersing yourself in Gretta's. You'll find the atmosphere engrossing – and the storm, when it comes, cathartic.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
Best underrated Christmas movies from Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga