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

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The Hand that First Held Mine

A Novel

by Maggie O'Farrell

The Hand that First Held Mine
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2010, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2011, 352 pages

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Alexandra whirls around to see her mother advancing down the lawn, baby’s bottle held out like a pistol. She watches as Dorothy takes in the man, all the way from his light grey shoes to his collarless suit. By the sour turn to her mouth, Alexandra can tell at once that she does not like what she sees.

The man gives Dorothy a dazzling smile and his teeth appear very white against his tanned skin. ‘Thank you, but this lady,’ he gestures towards Alexandra, ‘was assisting me.’

‘My daughter,’ Dorothy stresses the word, ‘is rather busy this morning. Sandra, I thought you would be keeping an eye on the baby. Now, what can we—’

‘Alexandra!’ Alexandra shouts at her mother. ‘My name is Alexandra!’

She is aware that she is behaving like a cross child but she cannot bear this man to think her name is Sandra.

But her mother is adept at two things: ignoring her daughter’s tantrums and extracting information from people. Dorothy listens to the story about the broken-down car and, within seconds, has dispatched the man off down the road with directions to a mechanic. He looks back once, raises his hand and waves.

Alexandra feels something close to rage, to grief, as she hears his footsteps recede down the lane towards the village. To have been so close to someone like him and then for him to be snatched away. She kicks the tree stump, then the baby’s pram wheel. It is a particular brand of fury, peculiar to youth, that stifling, oppressive sensation of your elders outmanoeuvring you.

‘What on earth is wrong with you?’ Dorothy hisses, jiggling the pram handle because the baby has woken up, squawking and tussling. ‘I come down here to find you flirting with some - some gypsy over the hedge. In broad daylight! For all to see. Where is your sense of decorum? What kind of an example are you setting for your brothers and sisters?’

‘And, speaking of them,’ Alexandra pauses before adding, ‘all of them, where’s your sense of decorum?’ She sets off up the garden. She cannot spend another second in her mother’s company.

Dorothy stops jiggling the handle of the pram and stares after her, open-mouthed. ‘What do you mean?’ she shouts, forgetting momentarily the proximity of the neighbours. ‘How dare you? How dare you address me in such a fashion? I’ll be speaking to your father about this, I will, as soon as he—’

‘Speak! Speak away!’ Alexandra hurls over her shoulder as she sprints up the garden and crashes her way into the house surprising, as she does so, a patient of her father’s who is waiting in the hallway. As she reaches the bedroom she is forced to share with three of her younger siblings, she can still hear her mother’s voice, screeching from the garden: ‘Am I the only one in this house to demand standards? I don’t know where you think you’re going. You’re supposed to be helping me today. You’re meant to be minding the baby. And the silver needs doing and the china. Who do you think is going to do it? The ghosts?’

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.

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