On one of my weekly trips to the library I noticed Maggie O’Farrell’s latest book, Instructions for a Heatwave. I didn’t know this was her sixth novel; as a matter of fact, I had not heard of Maggie O’Farrell before. I liked the cover, the description of the book in the inside flap and I liked reading stories set in England and Ireland so, I gave it a go and checked it out.
This book is mainly set in London and covers 4 days in the lives of the Riordan family. Specific to the title and story line is a heat wave which sweeps England in 1976. There are restrictions on water usage and everyone is sweltering, suffering in the abnormally high temperatures. I wondered if there was a heat wave in 1976 in England and sure enough, it’s recorded:
“The temperature reached 26.7°C (80°F) every day between 22 June and 16 July. For 15 consecutive days from 23 June to 7 July inclusive, temperatures reached 32.2°C (90°F) somewhere in England.” according to various UK newspapers.
The first chapter starts with Gretta Riordan pulling a loaf of bread out of the oven. In spite of the heat, she is going to fire up that oven three days a week to make bread. Her husband, Robert, is described as a quiet man who doesn’t talk very much (probably because Gretta talks all the time). Robert is retired. While Gretta to nattering on about heat, bread, the grown children, etc. Robert states he’s off to buy a newspaper. He goes off down the street and disappears. After an hour Gretta wonders who he may be talking to or what held him up. After 10 hours she calls her son Micheal with news of his father’s disappearance and the fact that Robert withdrew a great sum of money from their bank account. I’m hooked at this point because I want to know where Robert went, what’s he doing?
Later in the book Gretta reveals that Robert always “likes to know where she is at all times, he frets if she leaves the house without telling him, gets edgy if she slips away without him seeing, and starts ringing the children to question them on her whereabouts.” The reason he’s so keen to know the whereabouts of his wife is revealed later in the book. A series of events in his youth made him overly cautious.
Gretta and Robert are Irish but the three children have been brought up in London with reminders of their Irish heritage. The grown up children play crucial parts in the book. You hear their backstories and understand why they interact with one another with love, jealousy, scorn and compromise. They all come together when Robert is discovered missing.
Michael Francis is the only son. He leads a sad life. He is a man “hurrying home to a wife who will no longer look him in the eye, no longer seek his touch, a wife whose cool indifference has provoked in him such a slow-burning, low-level panic that he cannot sleep in his own bed, cannot sit easily in his own house.” Wow, you feel sympathy for him after reading his opening chapter. But it is not as described, not completely. Reading more you understand how Micheal and his wife Claire got to such a state.
Monica is the conservative daughter. She has definite issues with children and is leading a half life with her second husband. Living far out in the country (something I love) and hating the old house, the uneven wood floors, the antiques and much more. Monica has issues.
The youngest and the wild thing of the household is Aoife. I was intrigued by the name. It’s pronounced ‘Eef ah”…sort of a cross between Eva and Ava. She moved away from the family in her late teens and eventually made a life for herself in New York. She has a secret from her family, from her boyfriend and employer – it’s revealed when her story is told.
Whatever their differences and issues, the Riordan family comes together for the purpose of finding the father. The Irish family and friends gather in the crisis and provide lots and lots of food with their supportive commentary.
“They bring food, casseroles, pies, they dole out tea. They know how to discuss bad news: in murmurs, with shakes of the head, their accents wrapping themselves around the syllables of misfortune.”
I had to pair this with bread…..nice soda bread. (Recipe at the end of the page)
It’s an easy read, kept my attention and I was done in just under 4 days. This led me to look for more by this author and now I have checked out 4 more of her earlier books.
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2 teaspoons or ½ packet of yeast
2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
1 TB sugar
2/3 teaspoon salt
1 TB butter
2/3 cups buttermilk
I added all this to my machine and used the dough setting. This takes an hour and half and after that, roll out the dough and place in a pan for about 40 minutes. After it rises again, bake at 375 F for 30 minutes. This morning I had a slice toasted with marmalade.