Maggie O’Farrell is an author whose books are a “must read” for me. I gave away The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox as part of World Book Night last year and that one reminded me of when I had a summer job in a local institution for those sectioned for various reasons such as being “feeble”.
The latest novel Instructions for a Heatwave also took me back to this period of my own history because when I was working in those kitchens in the middle of a heatwave scrubbing pots before putting them in a bath of boiling water to sterilise them, I remember we wore underwear and nothing else under our white uniforms to try and keep cool.
It is in this period that the novel is set. I remember that it was illegal to water the garden but hadn’t realised that all the other restrictions were in force. These restrictions are used to split the novel into sections as we follow the Riordan family crisis. This Irish family of three grown up children are called back home to the London house where they were raised when the newly retired father goes out one morning to buy the paper and doesn’t return. The three children are all having their own problems at home – a dead cat and suspicious stepchildren, a husband being sidelined by his wife’s newly formed need to “find herself” and an undiagnosed dyslexic in New York hiding her boss’s paperwork because she can’t read it – but they come home to help Gretta the mother try and figure out where the father has gone.
Old family feuds and slights rear their ugly heads as Monica, Michael and Aoife try to pin their mother down to give them clues about what might have led up to this disappearance.
There are lovely moments such as Michael being welcomed back into his own house by a women attending his wife’s discussion group, only to find out that it is his sister who is being greeted while he continues to be ignored and where Monica is bundled into a store so she doesn’t need to come face to face with her ex husband.
Like life, we don’t get satisfying conclusions for each of the characters and we don’t really get an explanation for why the father has disappeared even although we do find out what he has been doing during his week away. Like most families, that which binds is more important that that which splits asunder.
The writing is satisfying and as usual I wanted to read on to find out what bits of the story would be concluded.