Thoughts on Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’

heat wave - penelope lively

I will admit that when I started this book, I really didn’t enjoy it, and disliked the first three or four chapters. To begin with, I was slightly dubious of the use of the present tense, and found the whole writing style that Lively employs incredibly pretentious, over-wrought and somewhat anal in its faux importance with itself. However, several chapters in, the text suddenly hit me, and from then until the end of the book, I was in love with every word.

I think that one of the main problems had been the fact that I’d read Hemingway’s ‘The Torrent’s of Spring’ a week or so prior, and was greatly aware of the repeated use of empty questions such as “Why did she feel like that?” or “When would her feelings for him end?” (I’ve made those question up- they aren’t quite the same in ‘Heat Wave’, but you get the idea). However, after a while they managed here to drag me into the story rather than alienate me from it, and as with the Hemingway work, they just became a part of the book’s charm.

The way in which the narrative flits between the present and the past does get slightly confusing and irritating in parts, but on the whole this is done well, and to be fair, I can’t fault Lively on the way in which she evokes memory and the nuances of emotion and feeling that cross an individual’s thoughts when they think about the past- or indeed confront the present. The plot was not the best and most developed that I have ever read, but the tangents taken into the past of Pauline, the lead protagonist, and Harry her ex-husband flesh out the plot by several orders of magnitude. Also, the descriptions used by Lively make the fairly simple plot both page-turning and magnificently well executed, with the present tense coming into its own in the flash-back scenes in order to show how the actions of the past can morph and merge into the present, and make time fragile and unstable in the human mind.

The present tense also places the reader in the midst of the spiraling and rapidly escalating action of the final scenes, which I won’t reveal, but which do work to genuinely shock the reader. I did find the turn faintly predictable, but this didn’t lessen its impact as I read, and managed to keep me captivated.

I do have more to say on this work, but will leave it here for now. It’s taken me a good few months to get this post up, and as I’ve said in several posts, I’m magnificently behind on my book reviews. However, despite the delay, I can’t recommend this book more highly, and can honestly say that it will appear on my list of favourite books when I get round to posting it.

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