The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
|The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Two women come to London as adults, some fifty years apart - one from rural Devon, the other from Finland, yet there is a connection between them which neither could have imagined. An exquisite story of love in all its forms - highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: April 2010|
|Publisher: Headline Review|
Lexie Sinclair was sent down from university for the crime of going through a door reserved for men. She could not graduate until she apologised and this she was not going to do. Home was not an option either but when she met the sophisticated Innes Kent she made up her mind to go to London and make her way there. It was the nineteen fifties and Lexie and Innes made a life for themselves in Soho.
In the present day Elina and Ted are struggling to recover from the difficult birth of their first child. Elina is an artist and she’s finding it difficult to come to terms with being a mother. Ted does his best to help but he is having to cope with disturbing visions and memories of his own childhood which don’t seem to agree with what he’s been told by his parents. The further he looks, the stranger are the links which he uncovers.
Maggie O’Farrell’s great strength is her ability to bring what goes on in the female mind on to the page. She does it with compassion and a complete lack of judgement. I began by having a grudging admiration for Lexie, liking her principles but wondering about some of her attitudes but in the course of the book I cried for her, loved her and am still haunted by her. I was even less certain about Elina, the Finnish artist, who can’t remember the small fact of having had a baby, but she’s struggling to look after her son on her own too soon after the birth. It's a brutally honest assessment of what it's like to be a mother for the first time. Then she has to cope with Ted’s flashbacks: if she finds them unnerving then Ted’s finding them even more so.
It's not just the people who make the story. Most of it is set in London and I was conscious of there being an older and a younger city. I do just remember London in the fifties and it's very different to the London of today. Most of the buildings might be the same, but the sounds, the mix of people and the attitudes are all very different. I don't doubt that this took a great deal of research, but it's worn lightly and I was conscious that there was a lot more in O'Farrell's brain than appeared in the book. That's the skill of a great writer.
The writing is pitch-perfect with not a wasted word or a false move, but it’s not just the writing. I found myself completely drawn into the story, needing to know what happened to Lexie, wanting to see how Elina and Ted’s dilemma resolved itself and although it wasn’t the answer which I expected it was absolutely perfect. There are few books which you genuinely can’t put down, but this is one of them. The characters will live on in your mind long after you’ve finished the book.
I’d like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If this book appeals to you then I hope that you’ve already read After You’d Gone. If not you really should. You might also enjoy The Death of Lomond Friel by Sue Peebles. You might also like to take a look at anything by Margaret Forster.
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.