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Maggie O’Farrell at the irish Cultural Centre

Maggie O’Farrell at the irish Cultural Centre

Review By Annie Brechin

Being welcomed to a free event with a complimentary glass of wine was a good start, and the rest of the evening in this lovely space did not disappoint. Maggie O’Farrell read two brief but engaging excerpts from her latest book, “Instructions for a Heatwave”, a novel which she explained came to her in the insistent voice of an overbearing Irish matriarch, Greta. Greta’s husband goes out for a paper during the heatwave of 1976, and fails to return, causing his abandoned wife to call home their three adult children to aid in her search for him.

P1000673The first excerpt concerned the clash between cultures where the eldest child, Michael Francis (as one of the audience pointed out, an exceptionally Irish name) is meeting his girlfriend’s very polite and restrained English family. O’Farrell cleverly portrays the chintzy trappings of 1970s middle England, with its borderline racism, and followed up with the dramatic weeping and wailing of an Irish family discovering their son is set to marry a “prod”. The second excerpt focused on the youngest daughter of the family Aoife, with a fascinating description of how writing appears to a dyslexic, informed in part by O’Farrell’s own son’s experiences.

After opening the floor to questions, a lively discussion ensued on how Aoife should be pronounced and if it’s risky to have difficult-to-pronounce names in a novel. The topic of dyslexia seemed to have touched a lot of people – O’Farrell recalled being fascinated by the idea that you could hide something that significant. She subsequently met people who had lived their whole lives not knowing how to read and had hidden it even from their nearest and dearest. She linked this to the older generational attitude of not speaking about unpleasant things, sweeping them under the carpet, suggesting that the therapised world we live in nowadays is a more recent concept than we imagine. O’Farrell neatly dealt with a question on gendered writing (saying that she thinks there is no division between male writers and female writers, and that perhaps the voice in her novels appears female, but, well, so is she) and joyfully informed us that she is a horror to work with when it comes to choosing the covers of her books, even down to the font. Very entertaining and left one with a real desire to purchase the book!

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