BookBrowse Reviews The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

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The Hand that First Held Mine

A Novel

by Maggie O'Farrell

The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2010, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2011, 352 pages

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A spellbinding novel of two women connected across fifty years

Winner of the 2010 Costa Novel of the Year Award

14 out of 18 BookBrowse readers rated The Hand That First Held Mine 5 out of 5 stars:

Rich with complex themes and an evocative style...
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, such as Nina Bawden, Molly Keane, and Daphne Du Maurier (see sidebar); 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... 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 (Marnie C).

I was deeply intrigued with the first paragraph - rereading it more than once just to be sure - and by the end of the first page I was totally smitten with this book. At first I found the interweaving of Lexie's and Elina's stories a bit jarring and disjointed, but then I settled into the author's rhythm and enjoyed the episodic intertwining. In the midst I always took the time to step back to appreciate her incredible, poetic descriptive prose. I am not a mother myself and it's no longer a possibility for me, yet the author's description of a new mother's fears, confusion, fatigue, and yet fiercely intense bonding with her baby seemed so very authentic to me in a way that I have never before seen presented. By the end of the book I didn't want it to end, but the ending was so very perfect I felt at peace. The author did an incredibly masterful job in weaving all the threads of the two women's stories together into a cohesive, beautiful multicolored tapestry. I continued to ponder the book after I finished, making the connections that were not apparent except in hindsight (Jean T). Discussion groups will love this novel because of the wealth of topics; love, loss, environment, parentage, greed, anger and so on, that make up the ingredients to the character of the person we become (Christine P).

... O'Farrell's prose and characters captivated our readers from the start...
From the opening page I was hooked. Written in beautiful, creative prose, this story is about two strong women struggling with motherhood (in all it's glories and difficulties), identity, love and family. These are women you really care about. You want to know how their lives unfold and how their lives are connected. I loved the twists, surprising revelations and resolutions. Nothing disappointed me and as so rarely happens, the ending was complete and satisfying. I didn't want to stop reading it and I didn't want it to end (Beth M). This is one of the best books I've read in the past two years. The writing was exquisite. I was intrigued with how the author went between the two sets of main characters, of different generations, in both conventional and non-conventional ways. In one particular way, I felt like I was watching a movie (Elizabeth B). I loved this book and highly recommend it. The language is beautiful, the characters are memorable, and the parallel plots reward the reader with more than the sum of the two stories told separately. Maggie O'Farrell recognizes the importance of detail in creating believable fiction and her dialogue is so good that at times I felt like I was eavesdropping (Kathy W)!

... but interestingly, a few readers had the exact opposite experience...
It was very hard for me to get into this book and it was difficult to stay focused on what I was reading. Some of the scenes were too descriptive for me (Karen L). I enjoyed the beautiful descriptive language, but could not connect to the characters (Deanna W). It took me about 90 pages of reading to get involved in this book, then I was very interested in the story line. However, I thought the writing was inconsistent. Sometimes it was too wordy and dragged on. The parts describing how hard it was for both main characters, Lexie and Elina, to care for their babies was way too lengthy. The manner in which the two separate stories in different time periods were finally connected created an intriguing ending (Ann L).

... though overall it's clear that The Hand That First Held Mine is a BookBrowse favorite.
If I could have read this in one sitting I would have (Judith W). Having just closed the final page of this book, I am tempted to simply say "Buy this book, you won't be sorry." So many of the beautifully descriptive passages are still resonating in my heart... A wonderful story from a masterful writer, and characters I will long remember (Lynn). I consider this one of the finest books I've read in a long time and think it will make an excellent selection for book clubs (Jean T).

This review was originally published in May 2010, and has been updated for the January 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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