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Instructions for a Heatwave Relié – Séquence inédite, 18 juin 2013
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Sophisticated, intelligent, impossible to put down, Maggie O’Farrell’s beguiling novels—After You’d Gone, winner of a Betty Trask Award; The Distance Between Us, winner of a Somerset Maugham Award; The Hand That First Held Mine, winner of the Costa Novel Award; and her unforgettable bestseller The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox—blend richly textured psychological drama with page-turning suspense. Instructions for a Heatwave finds her at the top of her game, with a novel about a family crisis set during the legendary British heatwave of 1976.
Gretta Riordan wakes on a stultifying July morning to find that her husband of forty years has gone to get the paper and vanished, cleaning out his bank account along the way. Gretta’s three grown children converge on their parents’ home for the first time in years: Michael Francis, a history teacher whose marriage is failing; Monica, with two stepdaughters who despise her and a blighted past that has driven away the younger sister she once adored; and Aoife, the youngest, now living in Manhattan, a smart, immensely resourceful young woman who has arranged her entire life to conceal a devastating secret.
Maggie O’Farrell writes with exceptional grace and sensitivity about marriage, about the mysteries that inhere within families, and the fault lines over which we build our lives—the secrets we hide from the people who know and love us best. In a novel that stretches from the heart of London to New York City’s Upper West Side to a remote village on the coast of Ireland, O’Farrell paints a bracing portrait of a family falling apart and coming together with hard-won, life-changing truths about who they really are.
Description du produit
The heat, the heat. It wakes Gretta just after dawn, propelling her from the bed and down the stairs. It inhabits the house like a guest who has outstayed his welcome: it lies along corridors, it circles around curtains, it lolls heavily on sofas and chairs. The air in the kitchen is like a solid entity ﬁlling the space, pushing Gretta down into the ﬂoor, against the side of the table.
Only she would choose to bake bread in such weather.
Consider her now, yanking open the oven and grimacing in its scorching blast as she pulls out the bread tin. She is in her nightdress, hair still wound onto curlers. She takes two steps backwards and tips the steaming loaf into the sink, the weight of it reminding her, as it always does, of a baby, a newborn, the packed, damp warmth of it.
She has made soda bread three times a week for her entire married life. She is not about to let a little thing like a heatwave get in the way of that. Of course, living in London, it is impossible to get buttermilk; she has to make do with a mixture of half milk and half yogurt. A woman at Mass told her it worked and it does, up to a point, but it is never quite the same.
At a clacking sound on the lino behind her, she says, “Is that you? Bread’s ready.”
“It’s going to be—” he begins, then stops.
Gretta waits for a moment before turning around. Robert is standing between the sink and the table, his large hands upturned, as if he’s holding a tea tray. He is staring at some-thing. The tarnished chrome of the tap, perhaps, the runnels of the draining board, that rusting enamel pan. Everything around them is so familiar, it’s impossible sometimes to tell what your eye has been trained upon, the way a person can no longer hear the individual notes of a known piece of music.
“It’s going to be a what?” she demands. He doesn’t reply. She moves towards him and places a palm on his shoulder. “You all right?” She has, of late, been ﬁnding herself reminded of his age, the sudden stoop of his back, the look of mild confusion on his face.
“What?” He swings his head around to look at her, as if startled by her touch. “Yes.” He nods. “Of course. I was just saying it’s going to be another hot one today.”
He shufﬂes sideways, just as she’d known he would, towards the thermometer, which clings, by a spit-moistened sucker, to the outside of the window.
It is the third month of the drought. For ten days now the heat has passed 90ºF. There has been no rain—not for days, not for weeks, not for months. No clouds pass, slow and stately as ships, over the roofs of these houses.
With a metallic click, like that of a hammer tapping a nail, a black spot lands on the window, as if pulled there by magnetic force. Robert, still peering at the thermometer, ﬂinches. The insect has a striated underside, six legs splaying outwards. Another appears, at the other end of the window, then another, then another.
“Those buggers are back,” he murmurs.
Gretta comes to see, jamming on her glasses. Together, they peer at them, transﬁxed.
Swarms of red-backed aphids have, in the past week, been passing over the city. They mass in trees, on car windscreens. They catch in the hair of children coming home from school, they ﬁnd their way into the mouths of those crazy enough to cycle in this heat, their feet adhere to the sun-creamed limbs of people lying in their back gardens.
The aphids ﬂing themselves from the window, their feet detaching at the same moment, as if alerted by some secret signal, and they disappear into the azure sky.
Gretta and Robert straighten up, in unison, relieved.
“That’s them gone,” he says.
She sees him glance at the clock on the wall—a quarter to seven. At precisely this time, for more than thirty years, he would leave the house. He would take his coat off the peg by the door, pick up his bag, call goodbye to them all, shouting and squawking in the kitchen, and slam the door behind him. He always left at six forty-ﬁve, on the proverbial dot, no matter what was happening, whether Michael Francis was refusing to get out of bed, whether Aoife was kicking up a stink about Godknowswhat, whether Monica was trying to take over the cooking of the bacon. Not his department, all that, never was. Six forty-ﬁve, and he was out the door, gone.
He seems to feel a twitching in his limbs, she’s noticed, a kind of vestigial urge to set off, to get going, to be out in the world. Any minute now, she knows, he’ll be off to the newsagent’s.
With a hand on her bad hip, she pushes the chair out from the table with her foot, and Robert says, “I’ll just go round the corner and get the paper.
“Right you are,” she says, without looking up. “See you in a bit.”
Gretta sits herself down at the table. Robert has arranged everything she needs: a plate, a knife, a bowl with a spoon, a pat of butter, a jar of marmalade. It is in such small acts of kindness that people know they are loved. Which is, she reﬂects as she moves the sugar bowl to one side, surprisingly rare at their age. So many friends of hers feel overlooked or outgrown or unseen by their husbands, like furniture kept too long. But not her. Robert 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 with-out him seeing, and starts ringing the children to question them on her whereabouts. It used to drive her crazy when they were ﬁrst married—she used to long for a bit of invisibility, a bit of liberty—but she’s used to it now. Gretta saws a hunk from the end of the loaf and slathers it with butter. She gets a terrible weakness in her limbs if she doesn’t eat regularly. She told a doctor, years ago, that she thought she had hypoglycemia, after reading about it in a Sunday newspaper. Which would have explained her need to eat quite so often, wouldn’t it? But the doctor hadn’t even looked up from his prescription pad. “No such luck, I’m afraid, Mrs. Riordan,” he’d said, the cheeky so-and-so, and handed her a diet sheet.
The children all love this bread. She makes an extra loaf if she’s going to visit any of them and takes it, wrapped in a tea towel. She’s always done her best to keep Ireland alive in her London-born children. The girls both went to Irish-dancing classes. They had to catch the bus all the way to a place in Cam-den Town. Gretta used to take a cake tin of brack or gingerbread with her to pass around to the other mothers—exiled like her from Cork, from Dublin, from Donegal—and they would watch their daughters dip up and dip down, tap their feet in time to the ﬁddle. Monica, the teacher had said after only three lessons, had talent, had the potential to be a champion. She always knew, the teacher had said, she could always spot them. But Monica hadn’t wanted to become a champion or to enter the competitions. I hate it, she’d whisper, I hate it when everyone looks at you, when the judges write things down. She’d always been so fearful, so cautious, so backwards in coming forwards. Was it Gretta’s fault, or were children born like that? Hard to know. Either way, she’d had to allow Monica to give up the dancing, which was a crying shame.
Gretta had insisted on regular Mass and communion for each of them (although look how that had turned out). They’d gone to Ireland every year for the summer, ﬁ rst to her mother’s and then to the cottage on Omey Island, even when they’d got older and started to moan about the journey. When Aoife was little, she’d loved the excitement of having to wait for the tide to draw back off the causeway, revealing the slick, glassy sand, before they could walk over. “It’s only an island sometimes,” Aoife had said once, when she was about six, “isn’t that right, Mammy?” And Gretta had hugged her and told her how clever she was. She’d been a strange child, always coming out with things like that.
They were perfect, those summers, she thinks now, as she bites down into her second slice of bread. Monica and Michael Francis out roaming until all hours and, when Aoife came along, a baby in a crib to keep her company in the kitchen, before she went out to call the others in for their tea.
No, she couldn’t have done any more. And yet Michael Fran-cis had given his children the most English of English names. Not even an Irish middle name, she’d asked. She wouldn’t allow herself to think about how they were growing up heathen. When she’d mentioned to her daughter-in-law that she knew of a lovely Irish-dance school in Camden, not far from them, her daughter-in-law had laughed. In her face. And said—what was it?—is that the one where you’re not allowed to move your arms?
About Aoife, of course, the less said the better. She’d gone off to America. Never called. Never wrote. Living with some-body, Gretta suspects. Nobody has told her this; call it a mother’s instinct. Leave her alone, Michael Francis always says, if Gretta starts to question him about Aoife. Because she knows Michael Francis will know, if anyone does. Always as thick as thieves, those two, despite the age gap.
The last they’d heard from Aoife was a postcard at Christ-mas. A postcard. A picture of the Empire State Building on it. For the love of God, she’d shouted, when Robert handed it to her, is she not even able to stretch to a Christmas card, now? As if, she’d continued to shout, I’d never given her a proper upbringing. She’d spent the better part of three weeks sewing a communion dress for that child and she’d looked like an angel. Everybody said so. Who’d have thought then, as she’d stood on the church steps in her white dress and white lace ankle socks, veil ﬂ uttering in the breeze, that she’d grow up so ungrateful, so thoughtless that she’d send a picture of a building to her mother to mark the Christ Child’s birthday?
Gretta sniffs as she dips her knife into the red mouth of the jam pot. Aoife doesn’t bear thinking about. The black sheep, her own sister had called her that time, and Gretta had ﬂ own off the handle and told her to mind her bloody tongue, but she has to concede that Bridie had a point.
She crosses herself, says a swift novena for her youngest child under her breath, under the ever-watchful eye of Our Lady, who looks down from the kitchen wall. She cuts another slice of bread, watching the steam vanish into the air. She will not think about Aoife now. There are plenty of good things to focus on instead. Monica might ring tonight—Gretta had told her she’d be near the phone from six. Michael Francis had as good as promised to bring the children over this weekend. She will not think about Aoife, she will not look at the photo of her in the communion outﬁ t that sits on the mantelpiece, no, she will not.
After putting the bread back on the rack to air for Rob-ert, Gretta eats a spoonful of jam, just to keep herself going, then another. She glances up at the clock. Quarter past already. Rob-ert should be back by now. Maybe he bumped into someone and got talking. She wants to ask him will he drive her to the market this afternoon, after the crowds heading to the football stadium have dispersed? She needs a couple of things, some ﬂ our, a few eggs wouldn’t go amiss. Where could they go to escape the heat? Maybe a cup of tea at that place with the good scones. They could walk down the street, arm in arm, take the air. Talk to a few people. It was important to keep him busy: ever since the retirement, he can become brooding and bored if conﬁ ned to the house for too long. She likes to organize these outings for them.
Gretta goes out through the living room into the hall, opens the front door and walks out onto the path, sidestepping that rusting carcass of a bicycle Robert uses. She looks left, she looks
right. She sees next door’s cat arch its back, then walk in mincing, feline steps along the wall, towards the lilac bush, where it proceeds to scratch its claws. The road is empty. No one about. She sees a red car caught mid-maneuver, farther up the road. A magpie keens and moans overhead, wheeling sideways in the sky, wing pointing downwards. In the distance, a bus grinds up the hill, a child trundles on a scooter along the pavement, someone somewhere turns on a radio. Gretta puts her hands on her hips. She calls her husband’s name, once, twice. The flank of the garden wall throws the sound back to her.
Stoke Newington, London
Michael has walked from Finsbury Park station. A mad decision in the heat, even at this time of day. But the roads had been choked when he’d emerged aboveground, the buses stranded in traffi c, wheels motionless on the softening tarmac, so he’d set off along the pavement, between the houses that seemed to transpire heat from their very bricks, making the streets into sweltering runnels through which he must toil. He pauses, panting and perspiring, in the shade of the trees that fringe Clissold Park. Removing his tie and freeing his shirt from his trousers, he surveys the damage wreaked by this neverending heatwave: the park is no longer the undulating green lung he has always loved. He has been coming here since he was a child: his mother would pack a picnic—hard-boiled eggs, bluish under their crumbling shells, water that tasted of Tupperware, a wedge of tea cake each; they would all be handed a bag to
carry off the bus, even Aoife. “No shirkers,” his mother would say loudly, as they stood waiting for the door to open, making the rest of the bus look around. He can remember pushing Aoife in her striped buggy along the path by the railings, trying to get her off to sleep; he can remember his mother trying to coax Monica into that paddling pool. He recalls the park as a space of differing shades of green: the full emerald sweeps of grass, the plintering verdigris of the paddling pool, the lime-yellow of the light through the trees. But now the grass is a scorched ocher, the bare earth showing through, and the trees offer up limp leaves to the unmoving air, as if in reproach.
He draws in a breath through his nose and, realizing that the dry air burns his nostrils, takes a look at his watch. Just after five. He should get home.
It is the last day of term, the start of the long summer holidays. He has made it to the end of another school year. No more marking, no more classes, no more getting up and getting out in the mornings for six whole weeks. His relief is so enormous that it manifests itself physically, as a weightless, almost dizzy sensation at the back of his head; he has the sense he might stumble if he moves too quickly, so unburdened, so untethered does he feel. He sets off in the most direct route, straight across the burntout grass, out into the shadeless open, where the light is level and merciless, past the shut café where he longed to eat as a child but never did. Daylight robbery, his mother called it, unwrapping sandwiches from their grease-proof shrouds.
Sweat breaks out in his hairline, along his spine, his feet move jerkily over the ground and he wonders, not for the first time, how others might see him. A father, returning from his place of work to his home, where his family and his dinner will be waiting. Or a man overheated and sweaty, late, carrying too many books, too many papers, in his briefcase. A person past youth, hair thinning just a little at the crown, wearing shoes that need resoling and socks that require a darn. A man tormented by this heatwave because how is one supposed to dress for work in temperatures such as this, in a shirt and a tie, for God’s sake, in long trousers, and how is one meant to concentrate when the female inhabitants of the city walk about pavements and sit in offices in the briefest of shorts, their legs bare and brown and crossed against him, in narrow-strapped tops with their shoulders exposed, just the thinnest of fabrics separating their breasts from the unbearably hot air? 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.
The edge of the park is in sight now. He’s almost there. One more stretch of grass in full sun, then a road, then around the corner, then it’s his street. He can make out the roofs of his neighbors and, if he stretches on tiptoe, the slates of his house, the chimney pot, the skylight beneath which, he is sure, his wife will be sitting.
He swats a bead of moisture from his upper lip and switches his briefcase to the opposite hand. At the end of his street, there is a queue at the standpipe. Several of his neighbors, a lady from down the road and a few others he doesn’t recognize, straggle across the pavement and onto the road, empty drums at their feet. Some of them chat to each other, one or two wave or nod to him as he passes. The thought that he ought to offer to help the lady passes through his mind; he ought to stop, fill her drum for her, carry it back to her house. It would be the right thing to do. She is his mother’s age, perhaps older. He should stop, offer help. How will she manage otherwise? But his feet don’t hesitate in their movement. He has to get home, he can’t brook any further delay.
He unlatches his gate and swings it open, feeling as though it has been weeks since he last saw his home, feeling joy surge through him at the thought that he doesn’t have to leave it for
six weeks. He loves this place, this house. He loves the black-and-white-tiled front path, the orange-painted front door, with the lion-faced knocker and the blue glass insets. If he could,
he would stretch himself skywards until he was big enough to embrace its red-gray bricks. The fact that he has bought it with his own money—or some of his own money, along with a large mortgage—never ceases to amaze him. That, and the fact it contains at this very moment the three people most precious to him in the world.
He unlocks the door, steps onto the mat, flings his bag to the floor and shouts, “Hello! I’m home!”
He is, for a moment, exactly the person he is meant to be: a man, returning from work, on the threshold of his home, about to greet his family. There is no difference, no schism, between the way the world might see him and the person he privately knows himself to be.
“Hello?” he calls again.
The house makes no answer. He shuts the door behind him and picks his way through the flotsam of bricks, dolls’ clothes and plastic teacups on the hall floor.
Revue de presse
“Smart and provocative . . . O’Farrell has made her mark by combining the elements of good old-fashioned drama with a modern lightness of touch in language and a deft freedom in moving her narratives forward through juxtaposition rather than linear plotting . . . Over and over, she tries to work out who people really are, how ordinary lives can conceal extraordinary stories.”
–The New York Times Book Review
“Searing . . . Astonishing . . . Perhaps a perfect book . . . Full of unforgettable players . . . Instructions for a Heatwave is never dull, never unconvincing, 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.”
–Los Angeles Review of Books
“Maggie O’Farrell has written my favorite kind of novel: big-hearted, psychologically complex, and utterly gripping from page one. Her spare and subtle prose yields a narrative of extraordinary power. Instructions for a Heatwave is a quiet masterpiece, one I’ll be recommending for years to come.”
–Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette
“Instructions for a Heatwave is a thoroughly engrossing and suspenseful novel about an Irish family and its disparate members coming together one unbearably hot summer. Their mission is to find a father who has wandered off. Their unspoken mission is to rediscover and forgive each other for a lifetime of slights and betrayals, real and imagined. O’Farrell, in this beautifully-written tale, gets the psychological nuances just right.”
“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—and a few of Gretta’s and Robert’s, too.”
–Entertainment Weekly, Grade: A-
“Beneath the shouting, O’Farrell can convey the slightest ‘wrinkle in the atmosphere.’”
–The New Yorker
“O’Farrell should be a household name.”
“Superlative . . . A reunion of far-flung siblings for a Mike Leigh-style extravaganza of reckonings and reconciliations.”
“A piercing portrait of a family falling apart and coming together again.”
“Big-hearted . . . Assured . . . O’Farrell is deft at delineating character, to the extent that by the end of the novel, the reader feels on intimate terms with everyone involved . . . 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 . . . Well worth seeking out.”
“A psychological drama of the first order . . . Instructions for a Heatwave is a prescription for healing—and forgiving—the rifts and dysfunctions of complicated family life. Brimming with wit, wisdom, and wonderful writing, it deserves a wide readership.”
“O’Farrell skillfully navigates between past and present, as family secrets are revealed and old grudges are hashed out, without ever losing the narrative’s pace. An absorbing read from start to finish, though O’Farrell’s vibrant prose, each character comes alive as more is revealed and the novel unfolds.”
“Thoughtful, expressive . . . Heatwave celebrates the particularly maddening and recognizable ways a family can shape us.”
–Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
“An Irish family saga, replete with secrets, rivalries, and misbehavior becomes a compelling and entertaining story in Maggie O’Farrell’s hands . . . O’Farrell takes readers on journeys interior and exterior—recounted in flawless prose that will have you reading while strap-hanging, standing in line, or waiting at a stop light.”
“Riveting . . . Finely drawn . . . 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
“A sizzling family dynamic radiates off the pages of this novel.”
–EW.com, “The Must List”
“A beautiful portrait of family life. The story really blossoms in the second half . . . where the family’s secrets and private feuds come raging forth so that the true healing can begin.”
“Lyrical . . . vivid . . . The power and resonance of the book is the journey the family members take during this scorching period in time . . . Read Instructions for a Heatwave and see if these characters, this family, with their secrets and insanity, don’t seep into your bones like the hot summer sun.”
–My Shelf Confessions
“A story of self-discovery and coming to terms with the truths that are ever present in our lives . . . It’s one of those rare books that balances each narrative device, plot point, and character perfectly, such that readers will be absolutely mesmerized by this book from beginning to end.”
–S. Krishna’s Books
“Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave is just the kind of family drama I love: Nobody gets off easy in it, but everybody gets treated with compassion. It’s stylish, funny, smart and skillfully written, and I could not put it down.”
–Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins
“A beautifully written and perfectly observed story of family, secrets, and forgiveness. Instructions for a Heatwave is an absolute gem. It’s the kind of novel that you want to devour and savor at the same time.”
“Acutely observed…revelatory, redemptive, and moving…There is a deliciousness to this novel, a warmth and readability that render it unputdownable and will surely make it a hit. O’Farrell has done it again.”
–Joanna Briscoe, The Guardian
“An accomplished and addictive story told with real humanity, warmth, and infectious love for the characters. Highly recommended.”
–Viv Groskop, The Observer
“A literary event…evocative, articulate, and joyously readable…O’Farrell’s talent for drawing intriguing but relatable characters is eclipsed only by a rare gift for description that is almost photographic in its imagery…An author at the top of her game.”
–Charlotte Heathcote, The Sunday Express
“Humorous, humane, and perceptive…O’Farrell depicts relationships with piercing acuity in haunting, intense prose…a deliciously insightful writer…Her sharp but humane eye dissects every form of human interaction.”
–Leyla Sanai, The Independent on Sunday
“Elegant, lyrical, and subtle…O’Farell’s a compassionate writer, showing us every member of the family from a variety of viewpoints, ensuring that we understand and feel for every one of them even as they drive each other mad…The Riordans will stay in your mind long after you finish reading this book. They’re funny, infuriating, and impossible not to love. They feel like family.”
–Anna Carey, The Irish Times
“Thoroughly absorbing and beautifully written…A novel about what we say and what other people hear; about families; what we don’t tell each other and what we do; the compromises and accommodations we make and what happens when we build our lives around half-truths.”
–Victoria Moore, Daily Mail
“A ripping yarn…A brilliant domestic drama that teeters on the edge of being a thriller; it’ll hook you in at the start and keep you dangling.”
–Katie Law, Evening Standard
“O’Farrell is adept at creating pace out of the intricacies of family relations. She keeps the gas up on the Bunsen burner throughout...I felt that I gobbled this book.”
–Vicky Allan, The Herald
“Farrell’s language is lissom, airborne, mostly seamless, her characters flawed, contradictory, aggravating and instantly knowable. This is a deceptively easy, effortlessly true-feeling novel; a total delight.”
–Claire Allfree, Metro
“O’Farrell is hard to beat. Anyone looking for a British equivalent of Anne Tyler need look no further.”
–David Robinson, The Scotsman
“A surprising, beautiful novel, full of the intricacies of family life…You’ll find yourself wanting to devour it in one sitting.”
–Claire Frost, Fabulous Magazine
Détails sur le produit
- Éditeur : Knopf (18 juin 2013)
- Langue : Anglais
- Relié : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0385349408
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385349406
- Poids de l'article : 567 g
- Dimensions : 16.84 x 3.15 x 24.23 cm
- Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon : 28,384 en Romans historiques (Livres)
- 480,862 en Anglais
- Commentaires client :
À propos de l'auteur
Meilleures évaluations de France
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J'avais lu et adoré les trois premiers romans de Maggie O'Farrell ("After You'd Gone", "My Lover's Lover" et "The Distance Between Us"); avec le recul, je ne sais plus bien pourquoi j'ai cessé de suivre cette auteure. Mais après avoir découvert Stewart O'Nan cet été, je suis frappée par les similitudes de leur style: cette façon de rentrer dans la tête de gens proches les uns des autres pour décortiquer leurs rapports, cette sensibilité dans la façon de décrire le quotidien, cet art de tenir le lecteur en haleine des centaines de pages durant sans qu'il se passe grand-chose. La spécificité de Maggie O'Farrell, c'est que ses personnages protègent généralement un secret ou cherchent à en découvrir un, ce qui les isole et les tourmente. "Instructions for a Heatwave" ne fait pas exception à la règle. Si son thème familial m'a moins touchée que ceux des précédents romans de l'auteure, j'ai retrouvé avec beaucoup de plaisir la belle écriture intimiste de Maggie O'Farrell.
This is one of the best books I have read recently. It is very well written, full of wit, humour and tenderness.
One of the few books I would want to keep forever
Maggie O'Farrel a eu des très bonnes idées, a voulu aborder différents thèmes mais l'ensemble ne va pas.
Quant au titre : Instructions for a heat wave, why instructions ???
Une vague de chaleur frappe Londres pendant le printemps et l’été 1976, Robert Riordan, retraité, va chercher son journal comme chaque jour. Mais, ce jour-là, il ne rentre pas à la maison, il disparait sans un mot. Gretta, sa femme finit par s’inquiéter et appelle ses enfants à l’aide.
C’est la réunion de ces trois-là autour de leur mère qui est intéressante. Ils vont devoir laisser leurs problèmes entre parenthèses un moment pour aider Gretta. Ils mettront un moment à se retrouver, se redécouvrir pour le meilleur et pour le pire et pour reformer une fratrie.
Maggie O’Farrell sait nous mener des uns aux autres d’une manière incisive et légère et plante des personnages plus vrais que nature dans leurs désarrois. Voilà une belle plume empreinte de beaucoup de sensibilité et de générosité. Je regrette un peu la fin qui me semble assez convenue, heureusement que l’auteur ne s’appesantit pas dessus.
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The first chapter is superb: we see the mother alone in the house; we see that she is greedy, constantly eating, spooning jam out of the pot because she ‘suffers from weakness’ if she doesn’t eat. This last is an example of her easy self -indulgence, her self-delusion, her hypochondria. And as she sits there eating & reflecting in a self-centred way, we see her false piety, her hypocrisy, her total lack of any intellectual capacity or empathy. She lives according to a set of pious homilies & prejudices, & uses manipulative behaviour to control her children, & perhaps her husband. It is hard to find any redeeming feature.
Clearly, Maggie O’Farrell can write fluently: the words pour off her pen; I might even say gush. What I feel about this book is that here is a very practised writer, who can reel off this fluid prose & concoct a seemingly plausible & credible narrative about family life, & in particular Irish family life. But somehow it’s too practised, & ultimately formulaic, so unsatisfying.
It is difficult to justify my criticism of the book, because if I think about the individual parts, for example the stories of the (grown up) children & their relationships with each other, their mother & in the wider world, I can see it is all skilfully done. And she has some beautiful turns of phrase. But as a whole it is all too pat.
Added to this is the fact that although we witness their individual anxieties etc, the overarching tone is one of sentimentality, increasingly evident as the story progresses. Certain key events test credulity, for example the father going off - disappearing - for what turns out to be a rather unconvincing reason, although I can see how the author has tried to make it credible. Yes, these are Irish people in the thrall of church/ social pressures, but for me that doesn’t gel as reason enough. But why exactly did he go without a word to anyone; it is all a bit vague.
As others have pointed out, the heatwave theme doesn’t really work. At times I think she evokes the heat well, but it doesn’t suffuse the book sufficiently to justify it as a main theme. The water shortage announcements that precede sections of the book are artificial & add nothing, clearly only there to justify the title of the book - “Instructions”. But worse is the metaphor about a Bunsen burner causing a reaction, acting as a catalyst to cause a change in the nature of things. I know others liked this but to me it was a clumsy attempt to explain these rather unbelievable events; particularly the father’s desertion, when surely it ought to be enough to say people were adversely affected by the heat. But that wouldn’t quite justify him doing something so apparently out of character, so we are treated to this obfuscation about Bunsen burners.
The narrative follows the changes in the main characters’ attitudes & relationships with each other - with the exception of the mother perhaps, although we do see a more caring side in the last chapter. But it is all too saccharine.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Overall, this is superior pulp fiction, of the saga variety.
There are some really funny little remarks and asides in it, I really like the humour, and a couple of sniffy moments for me as well. I hated Michael Francis always being referred to as such......I can't be doing with doubled-up Christian names, it always sounds daft to me and a real mouthful. I howled when Aoife remarked that he'd "knocked up a Prod" and the image of Vita licking her aunt as well. Loved the 'Sunday-school stain' story. I had to google divided skirts as I was clueless, though.
I noticed one rogue hyphen in photog-rapher's but that was the only mistake throughout so to be highly commended for this alone.
It was different to what I'd expected but I've still spent a highly enjoyable couple of days reading it.
One morning in the middle of the famous 1976 heatwave Robert, a retired bank manager, goes missing. His wife Gretta eventually manages to communicate the fact to their son and two daughters, who rally round to support their mother and attempt to locate their father.
On several technical fronts this book did not quite work for me. The central prop of the book is the disappearance, suddenly, without explanation, of Robert. Robert himself is a shadowy figure in the book, far too insubstantial to do the job the author requires. His absence should be a howling vortex, a black hole of potent emptiness which pulls the rest of the characters inexorably into it. But in fact the other characters – even Gretta, for whom her husband’s disappearance is reduced to an annoyance at not being able to find the shed key – don’t seem very anxious about him, there is no panic, only mild curiosity and a sense of overwhelming inconvenience. In itself, his disappearance seems unlikely. What at first seems like a spur-of-the-moment decision turns out to be planned; why didn’t he tell Gretta at least that he was going away for a few days, even if he didn’t explain the reason? Robert’s disappearance is a narrative ploy, a catalyst for bringing the rest of the family together. While they overcome their differences in order to work together to find him, this only proves that he isn’t very important as a unifying, cohesive force in the family at all.
Each of Gretta’s children are dealing with issues, secrets of various kinds which, boiled down, all stem from the domineering, hard-line Catholicism and inflexible nature of their mother. They hide things, they feel bad about things, because she would be angry, disapprove or fail to offer support. Unfortunately the Gretta which is presented to us in this book is neither domineering, hard-line nor inflexible. She comes across as eccentric, well-meaning but perhaps rather loud and embarrassing, definitely damaged, perhaps even suffering from mental health issues. I felt sorry for her although at times she did make me laugh.
The book is set against a heatwave and in places this is beautifully described, but it doesn’t really impact the story other than the characters feel hot. The plot calls from them to travel to Ireland and I must say that the refreshment of the ocean crossing did impact the plot and the atmosphere. The eponymous Instructions for a Heatwave which preface each chapter play no role at all in the story, and seemed like a device.
All in all I would say that strong writing and vivid characters proved too weighty for the flimsy structure of this book, they deserved better. If I had been Ms O’Farrell’s editor I would have suggested a substantial beefing up of Robert’s character, making him the mainstay and stronghold of the family, and a significant hardening of Gretta’s, making her into the doughty, waspish and domineering woman her children all imagine her to be. Finally I would have ditched the title and thought of something better.