Cold comfort in the country

Heat Wave by Penelope Lively Viking, pounds 16

This book marks Penelope Lively's return to novel writing after the autobiographical break of Oleander Jacaranda. The cast have the usual bookish, middle-class occupations favoured in her novels: a writer, a copy-editor, a publisher, a seller of antiquarian volumes. The action is revealed through the eyes of Pauline, a highly independent, divorced woman in her mid-fifties who has retreated to the country for the summer, to be joined by her daughter with husband and child who live in the next- door cottage. Early indications suggest that son-in-law Maurice is already unsatisfactory or untrustworthy in some way: Pauline answers an innocuous question of his with a slight edge to her voice, for example - the kind of emotional hint Lively is so practised at creating.

Pauline is intimate with the processes of betrayal, thanks to her serially unfaithful ex-husband, and she relives her past in parallel with her daughter as Teresa heads towards a similar misery. Recognition prompts Pauline into a series of flashbacks, which reveal that mother and daughter have in turn married the same species of Mr Wrong. The book is partly about the pathology of jealousy, but more so, about how it feels to have to stand back and let your children make their own mistakes, even when they are exactly mirror your own.

Attractive men in Lively's work are often treated with mistrust: in Heat Wave the sexually adequate men are faithless schmoozers, whilst the nice man of the piece, Pauline's friend Hugh, is a comfortable old slipper with a negligible sex drive. You can't have it all, she seems to be warning us. The daughter's husband Maurice is a thoroughly recognisable type, superficial charm hiding vanity and manipulative skills, a man afraid of old age, given to making sweeping and largely empty remarks. ''Tedious stuff, nature,'' he pontificates. ''A process of weary repetition.''

The characters in this book are essentially urban people, who travel to the country with all their city accoutrements. The cottages bristle with computers, fax machines and other technical props. This is in keeping with the satirical element of the book, which revolves around Pauline's assertion that ''the cult of rural bliss is a myth.''

Penelope Lively is closely attentive to landscape and the countryside; but it is the prosaic commercial realities that are most present here. No sooner have we been lulled by the changing light over a rippling field of wheat than we are bluntly given the economic statistics of the farmland: 60 tons of wheat, worth pounds 5000. It is a deliberate tactic of deflation. This is the modern, populated English countryside, land of car boot sales and Happy Eaters.

Expanding her theme of the rural myth, Penelope Lively has Maurice himself writing a book : a history of tourism. This is a plot device of dubious interest, necessitating much visiting of local sights which brough on a bad case of Museum Leg in this reader. More importantly, the author does not link this issue in any meaningful way to the central emotional thrust. On the contrary, the surroundings are a distraction from what is taking place between the various protagonists.

Heat Wave never quite attains the true sense of engagement one is used to from this author, the poignancy of everyday lives made interesting by suffering or love. Everything depends on the quality of the writing, for there is no Sturm und Drang to hold the attention, rarely any dramatic confrontations to stir the blood. The most one can muster in support of the wronged wives here is a dull sort of indignation: Teresa is little more than an outline waiting to become a victim. The denouement is also somewhat hurried and over-convenient as a solution. But for Lively's fans, the satirical eye and ear are still there, picking up contemporary mores with the same old skill.

Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Life and Style
love + sex
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
Jeffrey Archer holds up a copy of 'Kane and Abel', a book he says was ripped-off by Bollywood
books
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Fay Weldon suggested authors should tailor their work for Kindle readers
books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: General Processor

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

    Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

    Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

    £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers