Paperback review: Instructions for a Heatwave, By Maggie O'Farrell

Truth bubbles up in slow-burner that's set in a long, hot summer

David Evans
Saturday 31 August 2013 17:13
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Maggie O'Farrell's latest novel is set in London during the heatwave of 1976.

One sweltering morning Robert Riordan tells his wife, Gretta, that he is popping out to buy a newspaper – and doesn't come back. When he is sighted in Ireland, Gretta and their children – a son whose marriage is sliding towards divorce and two daughters who haven't spoken since a previous family tragedy – put aside their differences and head off to find him. In a heatwave, the narrator observes, people "act not so much out of character but deep within it", behaving unguardedly. In O'Farrell's slow-burning but beautifully observed study of family relationships, secrets and uncomfortable truths bubble to the surface.

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