This Little Bag of Dreams

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Category: Literacy

Instructions For a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell


Instructions For a Heatwave was the Waterstones Book of the Month for March and is the first Maggie O’Farrell novel which I have read. I am certain it won’t be the last.

It is 1976 and the hottest summer since records began: ‘it inhabits the house like a guest who has outstayed his welcome’. Gretta Riordan, Irish-born, London-living, is baking soda bread, and Robert Riordan, her restless husband, is going to get a newspaper. He doesn’t return.

The greatest achievement of Instructions For a Heatwave is not its plot, despite the skill therein, but rather its deft portrayal of a family breakdown (or several family breakdowns, perhaps). For there are huge secrets within the Riordan clan: Michael Francis’s infidelity, the effect of Aoife in utero on Gretta, and Aoife’s dyslexia.

What I enjoyed the most about the novel, however, was O’Farrell’s portrayals of Ireland, Irishness and attitudes to the Irish. Take Michael Francis’s future father in law’s questions:

‘From Northern Ireland? Or southern Ireland?’

‘Ah. But you’re not IRA, are you?’

I have taken a long time to read this book. But then, it is no page turner, like Gone Girl. Rather, it is a deliciously long yet rewarding walk, with a glittering view over the sea to savour at the end. It will stay with me a long time.

Quick Reads: Six New Titles

If you didn’t already know, I’m a bookseller (well, I’m an assistant manager now, but I’ll always be a bookseller at heart). Books are at the heart of both my working and family life; I could read before I started school, and I hope my son will be able to also.

However, some people are not so lucky. For whatever reason – education, upbringing, perhaps – reading ended up seeming a chore rather than a pleasure.

That’s where Quick Reads come in. The short books which the organisation publish are ideal for the 12 million adults in the UK who struggle with reading, or indeed for the 4 million UK adults who never read for pleasure.

So, what are you waiting for? Why not pop down to your local Waterstones and pick up of the new titles tomorrow?

Doctor Who: The Silurian Gift
Mike Tucker

The world’s fuel is running out. Would you believe the man who claimed to have the solution? The Silurian Gift would make a great introduction to the Doctor Who novelisations for a younger reader, or an adult who enjoys reading but struggles to find the time to do so.

Wrong Time, Wrong Place
Simon Kernick

What would you do if you found a half-naked, injured woman in the Scottish highlands? Simon Kernick is one of the UK’s top crime writers, and Wrong Time, Wrong Place is a brilliant thriller, full of moral dilemmas. I think that crime is one of the best genres to either create or reinvigorate a love of reading.

Kathy Lette
Love is Blind

‘I’m so glad you’re slipping between my covers’: what better example of the lovely Kathy Lette’s wit, and incentive to read Love is Blind? Jane and Anthea are chalk-and-cheese siblings. When Jane decides to emigrate to Australia to find love, Anthea thinks she’s lost the plot. But is Anthea as straight-laced and sorted as she appears?

A Sea Change
Veronica Henry

Veronica Henry used to write for Holby City and Heartbeat, and as that writing history suggests, reading her work is like wrapping yourself in a Slanket (and I promise I mean in a positive sense!). A Sea Change is about love and surfing, and features a character known as The Ice Cream Girl. Why aren’t you reading it yet?

A Dreadful Murder
Minette Walters

This tale is particularly close to my heart, as it’s based on the true story of a murder in my home county of Kent. When Caroline Luard is shot dead, many suspect her husband is the culprit. But are things that simple? A Dreadful Murder is perfect for fans of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or Death Comes to Pemberley.

Today Everything Changes
Andy McNab

I must confess that I had no idea that Andy McNab’s early life was so bleak. More positively, what better champion for literacy and reading for pleasure than a bestselling writer who once struggled with reading himself? Today Everything Changes is a truly inspirational read.