Heat Wave, By Penelope Lively

A mother-in-law who packs a real punch

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The Independent Culture

It's fashionable to sneer at the typical English middle-class novel in which well-educated people with great jobs agonise about their inner lives and commit adultery.

But there's nothing wrong with exploring that territory if it's done well, and as this reprint of Penelope Lively's 1996 classic testifies, it can be done very well indeed.

Pauline is spending a long, hot summer in the country; her daughter's family occupy the cottage next door while her son-in-law works on a book. She observes the fragile state of their marriage and her maternal protectiveness grows fiercer as her son-in-law repeats the mistake her own husband made. It's short, but the emotions are so intense and the writing so good that it punches well above its weight.