1. Begin by stating that Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave is a fairly conventional novel about a family.
2. Mention that the novel begins when Robert, husband of the slightly dotty Gretta and father of three adult children, leaves his London home in the morning and doesn’t return.
3. Note O’Farrell’s method for revealing characters’ secrets to the reader first, then to other characters. O’Farrell manages to make the family secret theme work better than most authors, perhaps because her characters aren’t particularly perfect or appealing people. And (of course) not everybody gets along. Be sure not to reveal their secrets to blog readers even if that makes the post bland.
4. Get over the fact that O’Farrell uses the present tense, which isn’t your favorite… it works well here, giving a feeling of immediacy, even intimacy.
5. Accept that, though there are some wonderful references to nasty aspects of a heatwave in the novel (e.g. that seeming plague of aphids) the heatwave motif will cool. Accept that, even if you are disappointed because you were hoping for a thread of heat-related strangeness. Inform everyone that the book is set during a real-life heatwave in 1976.
6. Feel the pain of Gretta and Robert’s adult children—Aoife, Monica, and Michael Francis—as they travel together with Gretta to find Robert. Find humor, though, in some of their interactions as old conflicts and affections (re)surface.
7. Forgive yourself for not understanding why the novel generally worked pretty well for you even though it was a bit slow at the beginning and didn’t feel especially unusual or outstanding. Decide that the appeal probably has to do with O’Farrell’s characterizations, which are sentimental but not goopy and present intersecting sketches of characters—people—with real problems. Remind readers that you love books about unpleasant characters who err. Appreciate that O’Farrell has a light touch with these people, making them very human but not letting them off too easy, either.
8. Thank publisher Alfred A. Knopf very much for sending a review copy! And state that the book will go on sale June 18, 2013.
9. Mention current reading of J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country, another book set in England, a likely subject for a post after returning from a long week in England itself…