Book Reviews – Feb 2014

Instructions for a heatwave
Maggie O’Farrell
Tinder Press

Britain’s furious heatwave of 1976: cracked earth, water shortages, yellowed grass, and the fraying of tempers and patience. And, in the frantic midst of it all, the vanishing of a husband.
Maggie O’Farrell’s latest novel takes us back to that unbearably hot summer and encloses us in the drama of the tight-knit Riordan family.

Gretta, the archetypal ‘Irish mammy’ is up early baking soda bread (she refuses to let the hot weather dislodge her household traditions) whilst her husband, Robert, strolls off to get a morning paper. He doesn’t come back and Gretta gathers her scattered offspring to the family home to help in the crisis.

None of her three children are particularly happy to be summoned, as all are battling with their own private demons but the ties of the Irish Catholic family are too tight to be shrugged off, so each dutifully returns home: Michael, whose wife is ruffled, unhappy and on the verge of mentioning divorce; Monica, who is struggling to find acceptance from her new husband’s sulky daughters and Aoife, the rebellious one, trying to invent a life in New York despite being burdened by a secret.

All three children arrive back on the well-trodden doorstep, dutiful and good but, at the same time, suffocated by mother-love, sibling tensions and the insatiable heat.

So begins the family campaign to track down their missing father.

Death comes to Pemberley
PD James
Faber and Faber

This novel by P.D. James continues Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with a murder mystery. The story is set in 1803, six years after ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was finished (though it wasn’t published until 1813) and presumably when the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy took place. They have two young sons now, and the arrival of a third child is shortly to be announced. But their tranquillity is interrupted one wet and windy evening when an unexpected carriage comes rocketing up the drive.

Inside is Elizabeth’s airhead sister Lydia, the one who eloped with the charming but unreliable George Wickham, screaming that her husband is dead. Actually he isn’t, though many, including Darcy, for whom Wickham is a constant source of embarrassment and irritation, might wish he were. A search party discovers Wickham in the woods, drunk and bloodstained, beside the body of his best friend, Captain Denny, and he babbles what sounds like a confession. But is Wickham, although a deadbeat and a serial seducer of young women, really a murderer? Even Darcy can’t quite believe that of him.

The Casual Vacancy
JK Rowling

When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…. Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising. This is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.