Thursday, August 27, 2020

"The Heatwave"

Kate Riordan is a British writer and journalist who worked for the Guardian and Time Out London.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Heatwave, and reported the following:
From page 69:
1971

For the last few weeks, Elodie has refused to eat anything I prepare for her. She is only two and a half but her willpower is astonishing, pushing away food even as her stomach grumbles with hunger.

‘So she’s a fussy eater,’ says Camille. I can almost hear her shrug down the line. ‘You were too, when you were little. God, the fuss about the grease at the top of Maman’s cassoulet.’

I smile briefly at the memory. ‘I know it’s common. I know children dig in their heels at this age. It’s just…’

‘What?’

‘She doesn’t do it with Greg. Only me. And I worry about her because when he’s away on one of his buying trips she doesn’t really eat at all. I’d have to force her and I can’t hurt her like that.’

‘She’ll get over it,’ says Camille, and I can tell from the slight pause before speaking that her attention has wandered. I wonder what she’s going to do with her afternoon, all of Paris waiting beyond her apartment door.
In one sense, it’s lucky that my page 69 happens to be the beginning of a chapter, which gives the browsing reader a coherent entry point. It’s also a flashback chapter and The Heatwave is punctuated by these: passages that spool backwards into the past from a present day in 1993. Fortuitously for the test, each of these sections offers readers a clue to the central mystery of the novel, which is what happened ten years earlier to narrator Sylvie’s troubled and troublesome eldest daughter, √Člodie.

Here in 1971, √Člodie is just a toddler but is already causing her mother anxiety - something which will only increase as the novel goes on. The reader should also get a sense of the claustrophobia Sylvie feels as a mother to a young child - someone who loves her daughter but who nevertheless feels a pang of envy at the idea of (her sister) Camille enjoying the freedom of an unencumbered afternoon in the city. It’s also pretty clear that (husband) Greg is often away, further establishing Sylvie as someone who is isolated and unhappy. Altogether this is a pretty neat introduction to the main theme of the book - maternal anxiety - though being so early on in proceedings (the flashbacks are presented chronologically) there isn’t much evidence of the darkness that will permeate later chapters.

So far so good, but what a potential reader is definitely missing by not seeing a section from the present day is Sylvie’s acute dread in having returned to France a decade after fleeing. Without this knowledge, you might easily miss the sense of impending doom which propels the narrative along.
Visit Kate Riordan's website.

Q&A with Kate Riordan.

--Marshal Zeringue