Excerpt from The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Hand that First Held Mine

A Novel

by Maggie O'Farrell

The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell X
The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2010, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2011, 352 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


He is so taken aback that for a moment he is speechless (not something to which he is accustomed) and he watches, fascinated, as the woman stands up from her tree stump. The della Francesca madonna morphs before his very eyes into a version of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. What a sight! The woman coming towards him down the raised lawn echoes Duchamp’s effect exactly! Her anger seems to spike the very air!

Innes has been steeped in the Dadaists of late, so much so that two nights previously he had a dream entirely within one of their paintings. ‘My second favourite dream’, he rates it. (The first is too graphic to relate.)

‘It is also,’ the madonna is bearing down on him, jaw set, hands on hips, and he has to say he is rather glad of the hedge between them, ‘illegal. I am perfectly within my rights to summon a policeman.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ he manages to say. ‘My car. It seems to have broken down. I’m looking for a garage.’

‘Does this look like a garage to you?’ Her voice is not, as he might have expected, smoothed with a Devonian burr but sharp and cut like a diamond.

‘Um. No. It does not.’

‘Well, then,’ she is advancing ever closer to her side of the hedge, ‘goodbye.’

As she says this, Alexandra gets her first proper look at the peeping Tom. He has hair quite a bit longer than she has ever seen on a man. His shirt has an unusually high collar and is daffodil yellow. His suit is light grey needle cord and has no collar at all; the tie he is wearing is the colour of duck eggs. Alexandra comes two steps closer. Daffodils, her mind reiterates, duck eggs.

‘I wasn’t spying,’ the man is protesting, ‘I assure you. I’m seeking aid. I find myself in a bit of a fix. My car has broken down. Would you happen to know of a garage near here? I don’t mean to tear you away from your baby but I have to be back in London sharpish as I have a print deadline. Nightmare upon nightmare. Any assistance and I’m your grateful slave.’

She blinks. She has never heard anyone speak like this before. Sharpish, fix, print deadline, nightmare upon nightmare, grateful slave. She would like to ask him to say it all again. Then part of the speech filters through to her. ‘It’s not my baby,’ she snaps. ‘It’s nothing to do with me. It’s my mother’s.’

‘Ah.’ The man inclines his head sideways. ‘I’m not sure I would categorise that as nothing to do with you.’

‘Wouldn’t you?’

‘No. It must at least be acknowledged as your sibling.’

There is a slight pause. Alexandra tries, without success, not to examine his clothes again. The shirt, that tie. Daffodils and eggs. ‘You’re from London, then?’ she asks.

‘I am.’

She sniffs. She adjusts the scarf across her forehead. She examines the bristles on the man’s chin and wonders why he hasn’t shaved. And, unfathomably, a half-formed plan of hers crystallises into a definite desire. ‘I’m planning,’ she says, ‘on going to live in London myself.’ ‘Is that so?’ The man starts to rummage animatedly in his pockets. He brings out an enamelled green cigarette case, removes two cigarettes and offers her one. She has to lean over the hedge to take it.

‘Thank you,’ she says. He lights it for her, cupping the match in his hands, then uses the same match on his own cigarette. Close up, she thinks, he smells of hair-oil, cologne and something else. But he moves back before she can identify it.

‘ Thanks,’ she says again, indicating the cigarette, and inhales.

‘And what,’ the man says, as he shakes out the match and tosses it aside, ‘may I ask, is holding you back?’

Excerpted from Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell. Copyright © 2010 by Maggie O'Farrell. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: La Belle Sauvage
    La Belle Sauvage
    by Philip Pullman
    Voted 2017 Best Young Adult Novel by BookBrowse's Subscribers

    I wasn't quite sure what to expect ...
  • Book Jacket: Killers of the Flower Moon
    Killers of the Flower Moon
    by David Grann
    Voted 2017 Best Nonfiction by BookBrowse's Subscribers

    The long, sorrowful list of injustices done ...
  • Book Jacket: The Dry
    The Dry
    by Jane Harper
    Voted 2017 Best Debut Novel by BookBrowse's Subscribers

    After receiving a letter from his childhood...
  • Book Jacket: Little Fires Everywhere
    Little Fires Everywhere
    by Celeste Ng
    Voted 2017 Best Fiction by BookBrowse's Subscribers

    Small towns, big drama. Acclaimed author ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

"Electrifying . . . as beautiful and as icy as the Minnesota woods where it's set."
—NPR

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Wonder Valley
    by Ivy Pochoda

    A visionary and masterful portrait of contemporary L.A. from the author of Visitation Street.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Autumn

Autumn by Ali Smith

One of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year, and a Man Booker Prize Finalist

Enter

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay: $400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.