“The heat, the heat,” begins Irish writer Maggie O’Farrell’s newest book. “It inhabits the house like a guest who has outstayed his welcome.”
As the dog days of July soar to a sticky, scorching climax, it’s easy to relate--and perhaps just as easy to read O’Farrell’s insular little novel in one indulgent (and well-air-conditioned) sitting.
Set during an oppressive London hot spell in the summer of 1976, Instructions for a Heatwave begins when Gretta Riordan wakes to find that her husband of 40 years has seemingly disappeared--after going for the morning paper and clearing out his bank account.
Gretta remains unperturbed (she’s most concerned with quotidian pursuits, like finding the key to the toolshed). But the disappearance is troubling for their three grown children, who have never thought of their father as anything other than, well, boring.
Over the next four days, the family sorts through countless secrets, memories and slights, both real and imagined, in their quest to locate dear old Dad. And the resulting drama is as funny as it is touching and sad--think shrill quips, wounded feelings and, eventually, tacit forgiveness.
This is, of course, a credit to O’Farrell. Her characters may make grand gestures, but it’s their nuances that make them real.