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Instructions for a Heatwave (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – May 6, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

It is July 1976, and London is in the grip of an intense heatwave. All over the city, people are coming unhinged, and the Riordans are no exception. Retired banker Robert has left to buy a newspaper and never returns. His wife, Gretta, calls their three children, who converge on the family homestead for the first time in years. Michael Francis, full of regrets for the decisions he has made, is worried sick that his marriage is over; uptight Monica, trapped in a second marriage with two stepchildren who hate her, is not speaking to the younger sister she practically raised; and Aoife, who has taken herself off to Manhattan but cannot outrun the dyslexia that has made her working life a virtual hell. As the siblings seek out clues to the whereabouts of their father, O’Farrell, in her sixth novel, draws a beautiful portrait of family life. The story really blossoms in the second half, when the Riordans end their search in Ireland, where the family’s secrets and private feuds come raging forth so that the true healing can begin. --Joanne Wilkinson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“Warmhearted. . . . Work[s] out who people really are, how ordinary lives can conceal extraordinary stories.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Perhaps a perfect book. . . . Proceeding at a stately and crisp speed through a fully rendered world, grappling at all times and in an original way with the fascinating problems of our time, rushing head-long—and yet staggering almost drunkenly when necessary—towards a stirring and wondrous conclusion.” —The Los Angeles Review of Books

“A thoroughly engrossing and suspenseful novel. . . . O’Farrell, in this beautifully written tale, gets the psychological nuances just right.” —Anita Shreve

“A narrative of extraordinary power. . . . Big-hearted, psychologically complex, and utterly gripping from page one.” —Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette

“A beautiful book. . . . Spellbinding.” —NPR

“O’Farrell has done it again. . . . There is a deliciousness to this novel, a warmth and readability that render it unputdownable and will surely make it a hit.” —The Guardian (London)

“A rich, barbed interplay among siblings, who gibe, snap, and snipe as they go through their father’s things, slowly teasing out one another’s long-buried secrets.” —Entertainment Weekly, Grade: A- 

“Unputdownable. . . . There’s always something so tender and true in Maggie O’Farrell’s writing; a lovely ability to observe the smallest, most ordinary detail of family life and gild it with grace and significance.” —Marie Claire

“Once again, O’Farrell demonstrates her mastery at depicting strained relationships, skewed family loyalties and the just reachable light at the end of the tunnel.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Superlative. . . . A Mike Leigh-style extravaganza of reckonings and reconciliations.” —Vogue

“Well worth seeking out. . . .  It might sound a little grand to wax lyrical about ‘the power of the novel’ and all that, but you know, there is such a thing, and this book taps into it.” —PopMatters

“A beautifully written and perfectly observed story of family, secrets, and forgiveness.” —J. Courtney Sullivan

“Just the kind of family drama I love. . . . Stylish, funny, smart, and skillfully written, and I could not put it down.” —Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins

“An accomplished and addictive story told with real humanity, warmth and infectious love for the characters. Highly recommended.” —The Observer (London)

“O’Farrell is a deliciously insightful writer. . . . The final scenes of the family’s trip to Ireland is as perceptive on the jaggedness of family forced together as Colm Tóibín’s The Blackwater Lightship.” —The Independent on Sunday

“Exceptionally good.” —The Telegraph (London)

“Thoroughly absorbing and beautifully written.” —Daily Mail

“O’Farrell is hard to beat. Anyone looking for a British equivalent of Anne Tyler need look no further.” —The Scotsman


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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345804716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345804716
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (180 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

MAGGIE O'FARRELL is the author of four previous novels, including the acclaimed The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which was a B&N Recommends Pick, and After You'd Gone. Born in Northern Ireland in 1972, O'Farrell grew up in Wales and Scotland. She has two children.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Julia Flyte TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 5, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Recently I heard Kate Atkinson speak at a writer's festival. I am an only child, as is she, and she said something that struck a chord with me. She talked about how she is fascinated by families and the dynamics between siblings. It seems to her that families are a safe place where you can behave worse than you would in any other facet of your life and somehow it is permissible and you will (eventually) be forgiven. When the sibling dynamic is something that you yourself have not experienced, it is endlessly puzzling and fascinating.

I don't know if Maggie O'Farrell is an only child (her biography does not disclose this information), but one of the things that I love about her as a writer is the way she explores families and the complicated relationship between siblings (look no further than The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox). This is another book about family dynamics, with the plot playing almost a secondary role to the relationships between the siblings and their parents.

It's set in England in 1976. Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he's going out to buy a newspaper and doesn't come back. The three children return home to support their mother and assist with the search. Michael Francis comes from across town, Monica comes up from London and Aoife (pronounced EE-fah) flies home from New York where she has been living for 8 years. All of the children are dealing with their own issues: marriage problems, long held grudges, tightly held secrets. And Gretta is also nursing her own secrets. Maggie O'Farrell is such a wonderful writer and the characters really come to life.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Adriana in Los Angeles on April 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I love Maggie O'Farrell, and was very excited when I found out she had a new book coming out. But I absolutely could not wait for the scheduled June release in the U.S. Thank you, Amazon UK!

This is probably Ms. O'Farrell's most mature offering. Not that her previous books had been even remotely adolescent. Far from it. But this story flowed much more easily than her earlier works. I almost miss the disjointed changes in perspective and person from her earlier books, but then the easy flow of this novel would have been lost.

The story itself takes place over one weekend, and as the focus switches from one character to the other, we see their flashbacks which fill in why they are at odds with each other. As always, there is one (or more) dark secret(s) being kept by one or more of the main characters.

The story is all told in the third person, alternating between Gretta, whose husband just disappeared one hot morning, and her three grown children when they all come together to try to figure out what happened to him. Ms. O'Farrell creates such likable yet flawed characters. As they tiptoe around their secrets and grudges, and finally reveal all, you can't help wanting to know that everything will work out for them. Ms. O'Farrell has never been one to give a definite ending to any of her stories, leaving the reader to imagine the ultimate outcome, but this story in particular left me wanting a happily ever after for everyone. They all carried so much baggage for so long, and it was such a relief when they finally let it go, that despite their seeming insurmountable differences, it would be such a waste for them not to be able to work everything out and have everything they want.

Yet as much as I enjoyed the story, it did feel as part of it was missing.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Almost as though in reference to the title of her best novel, THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX (2006), Maggie O'Farrell's new one begins with a disappearance. One morning in 1976, in the midst of a heatwave, retired bank manager Robert Riordan, after laying breakfast for his wife Gretta, leaves their North London house, draws some money from his bank, and does not return. Within a day, their three grown children have all returned home to help their mother handle the crisis: Michael Francis from his house a few miles away, where he lives with his wife and two young children; Monica from a farm in Gloucestershire, where she lives with her second husband and, at weekends, his two children; and Aoife*, the youngest, from New York, where she is single with a boyfriend. Thus O'Farrell lays the groundwork for a book about family dynamics, not only Gretta, the absent Robert, and their grown children, but also the individual situations of the offspring, who will each confront and largely resolve their own personal crises over the four-day span of the novel. At this level, it is an extraordinarily well-constructed and heart-warming read.

Michael Francis is a bored high-school history teacher, who has had to give up his dreams of getting a PhD and becoming a professor, a circumstance that has cast a shadow over his marriage to his wife, Claire. Monica has gone from a failed first marriage to wed an antique dealer in the country, but has never felt at home in his deliberately unmodernized farmhouse or with his two girls.
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