• Robyn

HEAT WAVE

PENELOPE LIVELY


This year has not been the year of the many books - for some reason I seem to have picked stupidly long books and then found myself unable to find the time (or the energy and inclination) to read them at any speed - I am currently stuck half way through War and Peace and I picking the damn thing up to plough on is getting increasingly hard! In mid-summer I picked up Heat Wave the same day I bought War and Peace - I think the nice folk at Waterstones thought it was a good choice to have out in their bookseller's recommends section given the ridiculous heat we were stuck in the middle of.


It is no longer super hot, but it's still a good book. My taste in novels isn't particularly up to date - I do read the occasional new book, but really not that many. It's not like I live in a world of Jane Austen and regency literature, but I'm just not too good at being up to date. Heat Wave isn't quite as good as Moon Tiger, but she did win the Booker Prize for that one. But as a counterpoint to War and Peace, Heat Wave was perfect, things happened reasonably quickly, there was a limited cast of characters, and whilst the novel did pretty much outline what was to be expected from the opening few pages, I didn't know what every character was going to get up to and where exactly they were going to end up which is making War and Peace a rather more tiresome than I expected it to be - it's not in any way a hard book to actually read, it's just not quite all as promised by the Guardian's Viv Groskop.


Back to Lively for a minute - Moon Tiger is definitely one to read, and Heat Wave is a lovely short book about humans and life and love - and the descriptions of summer and the parched countryside are tempered by the cool outside rather than made oppressive by the scorched ground outside! Oh, and Lively can certainly write a neat bit of description.


I guess what struck me after reading it is that it is still so much harder in many respects to be a woman than a man. This was hammered home in a somewhat ranty fashion to my year nine class yesterday when one of them joked that feminists were 'racist against men' - foolish boy that poked the bear. Back to the book - Heat Wave is set in the nineties (I think, it isn't desperately obvious - there are computers and printers in the house, but fax rather than internet and no mobiles) with flash backs to the seventies, and the lot of women to raise children whilst their husbands forge their careers doesn't much change in the intervening years for mother or daughter. Twenty years on from that, things have changed - but only some. Choices seem a little less hard, options a little less bleak, but no one would question this narrative shifted forward a couple of decades with women picking up the pieces and nurturing the children as the men slip out of their grasp. There would probably be some snooping at texts and checking internet history rather than only having a dropped telephone call to obsess about, but the fundamentals wouldn't be radically different. Maybe I'm being unduly harsh - the narrative could be made entirely plausible with men as the central protagonists living in fear of being cuckolded by their wives - but I take my kids to toddler groups. Sometimes there is a single father there, very occasionally two - the tides haven't swung that far yet. The standard narrative is the woman pauses her career to nurture the infant and the men carry on with lives less altered. I wouldn't want to give the impression that Lively makes the women in her story weak or victims, but the women - even the women that don't really feature that much - just seem to have it much tougher than men, and for all the gradual victories of feminism, that hasn't entirely changed. Yet.


Now - to the reason Pan features in the photos (Pan is my cat, he tends to get called Mr Meow, or if Pip is involved just cat-cat - Pip is currently obsessed with feeding him, every five minutes when he's in the kitchen he vanishes into the larder cupboard and returns with the box of cat nuts and announces 'cat-cat foood') is because now the weather has turned, he has decided he likes hanging out with us again. It happens every year. In the summer he is more than happy to come and sit with us - if we are in the garden, but it is not until it gets cold and wet that he comes in the house and finds cosy places to sleep and curls up with you on the sofa in the evening.


Of late, he has been sleeping on our bed. I might have grumped a little at husband a few days ago because he did't take his shoes off downstairs and then put his feet up on the bed leaving a bunch of muddy marks. Ok, so I totally grumped at him. Especially when I had to wash the duvet cover twice to get the marks out. This is what I found on the bed when I took the photos of the book cover...


BLOODY CAT!! And I changed the sheets two days ago!! Why will no one leave their mud downstairs?!

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