Monday, July 8, 2013

Instructions for a Heatwave

Instructions for a Heatwave
Maggie O'Farrell

How does she do it?

My subconscious has never spoken to me so directly. I was brushing my teeth a few days ago and wondering why I find Maggie O’Farrell’s writing so addictive when the Beatles sang out the first stanza of their famous song:
Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover
Something in the way she woos me
I don't want to leave her now
You know I believe and how
Aha! It really was the way she moves--and on so many levels.

O’Farrell’s latest is a story about the struggles of a lower-middle-class and of course dysfunctional family of Irish background living in London. It’s 1976 and a severe heat wave has loosened rationality and made the characters in this family reunite to solve a problem. Robert, the stable and quiet husband of Gretta and father to Monica, Aoife, and Stephen, has left home to buy the paper that he has bought every morning for years, and doesn’t return. They reluctantly come together and move toward solving the mystery.

Reading this novel is almost like watching a superb game of soccer. O’Farrell moves the ball of consciousness around so fluidly and artfully that we see how each of the players runs and walks, how they pass, when they pass, when they intercept, if they play dirty, and, in the end, how they fit into the team. Gretta is religiously motivated and never stops thinking and talking--mainly about nothing. Monica is her favourite but has been trapped by her mistakes. Stephen is the brainy one but is still beset by anxiety and challenges. Aiofe is a character that I will not forget. She has never been able to read, and this has fractured her into many jagged but brilliant pieces. My understanding of illiteracy has been greatly enhanced.

And then there is the O’Farrell genius of moving through the geography of words. The characters, so different from each other, are believable because of her understanding of what the geology of time, character, and circumstance does to a person’s language and consciousness.

I had to check the lyrics of the song to write this and the last stanza also says it. Indeed, it’s also something in the way she knows.

Something in the way she knows
And all I have to do is think of her
Something in the things she shows me
I don't want to leave her now
You know I believe and how
- Barb

No comments:

Post a Comment