The Hand That First Held Mine - Maggie O'Farrell

Title: The Hand That First Held Mine

Author: Maggie O'Farrell

Publisher: Headline

Release Date: 2010

Category: Adult Contemporary Fiction

Source: From work book club

Hardback: 352 pages

Summary from Amazon: 
When the bohemian, sophisticated Innes Kent turns up by chance on her doorstep, Lexie Sinclair realises she cannot wait any longer for her life to begin, and leaves for London.  There, at the heart of the 1950s Soho art scene, she carves out a new life for herself, with Innes at her side.  In the present day, Elina and Ted are reeling from the difficult birth of their first child.  Elina, a painter, struggles to reconcile the demands of motherhood with sense of herself as an artist, and Ted is disturbed by memories of his own childhood, memories that don't tally with his parents' version of events. As Ted begins to search for answers, so an extraordinary portrait of two women is revealed, separated by fifty years, but connected in ways that neither could ever have expected.


This book was chosen by my book group at work and it went on to win the Costa Prize earlier this year. 

The book follows two stories. The first one is about Lexie Sinclair, a young girl in the 1950s who decides to leave her family and follow the intriguing Innes Kent to London where she starts a career in journalism. The second is about Elina and Ted, whose child is born, and where we see the difficulty of motherhood for Elina and the progressive appearance of Ted's memories about his own childhood. The book is an ode to family, love and life.

I wasn't sure what to expect about this book, I read it as part of a book group at work so I didn't exactly choose it. I completely fell for the cover, I think it is one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen. It has also a link to the story since the photograph on the book was taken by John Deakin who is mentioned in the book.

I have been literally blown away by the story and by the incredibly sophisticated and poetic writing. You have the impression of having your five senses titilated throughout the book and you can't help but be mesmerised by the story.

Lexie's story was my favourite part of the book, and the book could have been a stand alone novel telling only her story (though after finishing it, I understand the choice of the two stories). She has an amazing personality and the decade in which she evolves has always been in my mind a thriving and fascinating period. Lexie is an absolutely wonderful character and I mourned the fact that she didn't really exist. She is strong, determined, intelligent and passionate. Her love story with Innes is intense and their intellectual connexion and evolution is fascinating. Had she existed, her life would have been told and told again in books and films. Her life was at her image - very passionate and intense. I would have loved to meet her and to learn things from her. She is one of the most interesting contemporary heroine literature has shown me for a long time. I may be a fantasy fan and love my stories to be very far from every day life, but when an extraordinary character rocks my ordinary world, I cannot not like her.

I had more issues getting into Elina's head and the first part of the book with her kind of put me off. I didn't see where the story was going, it felt too long and overly descriptive and I disliked Elina as a character. I continued reading the book because of my love for Lexie's story, and I was determined to see why anyone would put those two women in the same book. But as I read on, I started to see the bigger picture and realise that the book brought so much more than first met the eye. I won't spoil the story for you, but if you find yourself not liking the first part of Elina's story, don't give up on this wonderful book.

Elina and Ted's story brings a different take on the birth of a baby and how it fundamentally changes the parents. They have now to think about someone else than themselves. The birth also brings confusion and uncertainty as to what to do, but also a wave of memories of their own childhoods and what happened then.

As Maggie O'Farrell said in an interview, London appears as a third main character behind Lexie and Elina. Not only London but the famous Soho of the 1960s where culture and politics would intertwine constantly. Enthralling doesn't even cover it.

The story-telling is simply breath-taking. So much am I admirative of Maggie O'Farrell's writing that I will add her to my small list of authors of which I read every single book published without even glancing at the back cover. Not only is the story interesting and surprising, but the way the story is presented is pure pleasure. If you are an aficionado of beautiful writing - don't hesitate any further.

I will stop now with the ridiculous cheerleading of this book :) but if you like brilliant writing, adult fiction, the sixties and strong women character, this book is definitely made for you.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, such a beautiful review and no one else has commented. Shame on them!

    I think adult novels scare people. They scare me sometimes. Being in a book group scares me sometimes. You obviously really connected with Lexie and there really is nothing better.