Book Review: The Heatwave – Kate Riordan

About The Book

Elodie was beautiful. Elodie was smart. Elodie was manipulative. Elodie is dead.

When Sylvie Durand receives a letter calling her back to her crumbling family home in the South of France, she knows she has to go. In the middle of a sweltering 1990’s summer marked by unusual fires across the countryside, she returns to La Reverie with her youngest daughter Emma in tow, ignoring the deep sense of dread she feels for this place she’s long tried to forget.

As memories of the events that shattered their family a decade earlier threaten to come to the surface, Sylvie struggles to shield Emma from the truth of what really happened all those years ago. In every corner of the house, Sylvie can’t escape the specter of Elodie, her first child. Elodie, born amid the ’68 Paris riots with one blue eye and one brown, and mysteriously dead by fourteen. Elodie, who reminded the small village of one those Manson girls. Elodie who knew exactly how to get what she wanted. As the fires creep towards the villa, it’s clear to Sylvie that something isn’t quite right at La Reverie . . . And there is a much greater threat closer to home.

Rich in unforgettable characters, The Heatwave alternates between the past and present, grappling with what it means to love and fear a child in equal measure. With the lush landscape and nostalgia of a heady vacation read, Kate Riordan has woven a gripping page-turner with gorgeous prose that turns the idea of a summer novel on its head.

My Review

“An absolute banger of a book” is how I described Heatwave by Kate Riordan on Twitter moments after finishing reading it, and now, a few days later, it’s a statement that I more than standby.

Set in the sultry heat of Southern France, it centres around Sylvie, who has returned from London to La Réverie, her family home with her daughter, Emma. The property has been closed up for the past decade or so and a small fire in one of the rooms has called her back to a place chock full of memories of events she would rather forget.

Flitting seamlessly between the 1990s and the 1970s Kate Riordan depicts a searing and at times uncomfortable portrait of family and motherhood. Emma is not Sylvie’s only child, she also had an older daughter, Elodie whose memory casts a long shadow. She haunts the rooms of La Réverie, her initials are carved into a door handle and her clothes still hang in the wardrobe. When Sylvie looks out onto the pool she can see the memory of Elodie lying on a towel sunbathing. She is everywhere, and Sylvie is unable to escape the memories of her.

Taking us back to Elodie’s birth and her childhood we are voyeurs on a difficult depiction of motherhood. In this book Kate Riordan asks what happens when you love your child when you don’t like her very much? It makes for a close and claustrophobic read which pulls back the layers of motherhood, parenting and marriage to reveal a darkness beneath. Elodie’s fate is never discussed, even Emma is unaware of what happened to her older sister and this is the mystery at the heart of the novel. Emma lived in La Réverie until she was 4 and has limited memories of the time; the wallpaper in Elodie’s room is familiar and she recalls scents and fragments of memories, but the whole, difficult past is just out of reach.

It’s also just out of reach for us. Kate Riordan tantalisingly dangles the mystery at the reader, keeping the truth from us. There are hints and fractures of memories which indicate a horror somewhere in the past and this drew me right into the heart of the novel. I love books which knock me slightly off kilter and are unafraid to tackle taboo or difficult subjects.

It is a real page turner which is meticulously plotted and has an arresting and compelling narrative voice. I loved it. I loved the puzzle, the sense of place (I defy you not to believe that you are in the sweltering heat of the South of France) and the clever way which this book is constructed. It’s the perfect summer read – especially as we’re not going to be going abroad in 2020 – and is one to savour, even though you just have to know what happens next. It’s highly recommended from me.

Where You Can Buy It

Sadly, due to Covid-19 the paperback release of The Heatwave has been pushed back to 3rd September, (you can pre-order here), but it is available in ebook.

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