Marnie C. (Baltimore, MD)
The Hand That First Held MIne
The tempestuous nature of memory, coupled with the joys and terrors of motherhood, animates this sharp-edged novel that deserves comparison with the fine yet often marginalized British female writers of the early- to late-twentieth century. Virago Books, a publisher of women's writings, has resurrected many of these authors, such as Nina Bawden, Molly Keane, and Daphne Du Maurier; while Maggie O'Farrell's dry wit and keen observations owe a debt to these predecessors, she connects the past (London in the 1950s, '60, and '70s) to the present in startling and evocative ways. After describing the bustling office of a Soho art magazine so vividly that we can almost hear the typewriters clicking, O'Farrell then shows us what the office has become in the new millennium: a café, quiet in the early morning, where the staff have forgotten to pick up a piece of foccaccia under the table. Objects and memories recur in different times and places, in the homes and heads of characters who are often connected in ways that they are not yet aware of, a technique which grants a kind of fossilized texture to the intertwining narratives. At one key point in the book, a man picks up an ammonite, the shell of an ancient mollusk, and marvels at its weight in comparison with the dress pocket he has pulled it from; at another, a young mother stumbles upon a valuable painting hidden behind a dressing table. These imaginistic clues ultimately help unlock a decades-old mystery, one as devastating as it is intriguing, and perfectly suit a book devoted to exploring the lives of artists and writers.