[Review] The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

Title: The Hand That First Held Mine
Author: Maggie O’Farrell
Page: 374 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Subject: Psychological Fiction, Family Secrets, Motherhood, London (England)
First Published: 2010

Fresh out of university and in disgrace, Lexie Sinclair is waiting for life to begin. When the sophisticated Innes Kent turns up on her doorstep in rural Devon, she realises she can’t wait no longer, and leaves for London. There, Lexie carves out a new life for herself at the heart of bohemian 1950s Soho, with Innes by her side.

In the present, Ted and Elina no longer recognise their lives after the arrival of their first child. Elina, an artist, wonders if she will ever paint again, while Ted is disturbed by memories of his own childhood—memories that don’t tally with his parents’ version of events.

As Ted search for answers gathers momentum, so a portrait is revealed of two women separated by fifty  years, but linked by their passionate refusal to settle for ordinary lives.

- Synopsis from book cover

I went to the bookstore with the hope of finding The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox—heard so many good things about the book—but was disappointed to find out that it was out of stock. I stumbled upon this book instead, a more recent one by Maggie O’Farrell. Such nice cover, ain’t it?

The story started with one word: Listen. And with that one simple word, the story had my full attention and I was simply hooked. I was immersed with Lexie’s life: her hope, her determination, her courage and her love for Innes. And of Elina’s struggle with post-partum depression that effects her relationship with her boyfriend, Ted. What I like about this book is the fact that not just the women characters were made alive (i.e. Lexie and Elina), but we could also see the dynamics of the sideline characters (i.e. Innes Kent, Ted) as equally important. But most of all, Lexie is my favorite character in this book. I see her as an elegant and a strong-willed woman.

I can’t tell you enough how I adore stories with dual setting, with past and present interwoven together. Of course when reading these kind of stories you know that they are somehow connected. This connection is gradually revealed and keeps me guessing until almost the end. It was a surprise conclusive end and I liked the ending very much.

The writing was so beautiful. O’Farrell has the ability to suck you in the story, into the lives of the characters with her poetic and lyrical prose. She made the setting of bustling 1950s Soho alive.

But above all, this novel is not just about the characters and the beautiful writing. It carries a valuable message. It is a poignant story of love and grief and of motherhood.

I will definitely read other books by Maggie O’Farrell. I finally got my hands on The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and can’t wait to start on it. I foresee that O’Farrell is an author whose work I will keep a lookout for from now on.


Amused said…
I'm so glad to see you enjoyed this one so much as it's been languishing on my bookshelves. Time to pull it out I think!