Summary and book reviews of The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

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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Book Summary

A spellbinding novel of two women connected across fifty years by art, love, betrayals, secrets, and motherhood.

Lexie Sinclair is plotting an extraordinary life for herself.

Hedged in by her parents' genteel country life, she plans her escape to London. There, she takes up with Innes Kent, a magazine editor who wears duck-egg blue ties and introduces her to the thrilling, underground world of bohemian, post-war Soho. She learns to be a reporter, to know art and artists, to embrace her life fully and with a deep love at the center of it. She creates many lives--all of them unconventional. And when she finds herself pregnant, she doesn't hesitate to have the baby on her own.

Later, in present-day London, a young painter named Elina dizzily navigates the first weeks of motherhood. She doesn't recognize herself: she finds herself walking outside with no shoes; she goes to the restaurant for lunch at nine in the morning; she can't recall the small matter of giving birth. But for her boyfriend, Ted, fatherhood is calling up lost memories, with images he cannot place.

As Ted's memories become more disconcerting and more frequent, it seems that something might connect these two stories-- these two women-- something that becomes all the more heartbreaking and beautiful as they all hurtle toward its revelation.

Here Maggie O'Farrell brings us a spellbinding novel of two women connected across fifty years by art, love, betrayals, secrets, and motherhood. Like her acclaimed The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, it is a "breathtaking, heart-breaking creation." (The Washington Post Book World) and it is a gorgeous inquiry into the ways we make and unmake our lives, who we know ourselves to be, and how even our most accidental legacies connect us.

Excerpt
The Hand That First Held Mine

Listen. The trees in this story are stirring, trembling, readjusting themselves. A breeze is coming in gusts off the sea, and it is almost as if the trees know, in their restlessness, in their head-tossing impatience, that something is about to happen.

The garden is empty, the patio deserted, save for some pots with geraniums and delphiniums shuddering in the wind. A bench stands on the lawn, two chairs facing politely away from it. A bicycle is propped up against the house but its pedals are stationary, the oiled chain motionless. A baby has been put out to sleep in a pram and it lies inside its stiff cocoon of blankets, eyes obligingly shut tight. A seagull hangs suspended in the sky above and even that is silent, beak closed, wings outstretched to catch the high thermal draughts. The house is set apart from the rest of the village, behind dense hedge, on the crest of a cliff. This is the border between Devon and Cornwall, where ...

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Introduction

In the thrilling, underground world of bohemian post-war London, Lexie Sinclair is making an extraordinary life for herself. Taken up by magazine editor Innes Kent, she learns to be a reporter, to know art and artists, to embrace her life fully and with a deep love at the center of it. Later, in present-day London, a young painter named Elina dizzily navigates the first weeks of motherhood. Her boyfriend, Ted, traumatized by nearly losing her in labor, begins to recover lost memories. He cannot place them. But as they become more disconcerting and happen more frequently, we discover that something connects these two stories– these two women– something that becomes all the more heartbreaking and beautiful ...
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    Costa Book Awards
    2010

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

14 out of 18 BookBrowse readers rated The Hand That First Held Mine 5 out of 5 stars. Here's what they had to say:

The tempestuous nature of memory, coupled with the joys and terrors of motherhood, animates this sharp-edged novel... 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). 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).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (829 words).

Media Reviews

The Washington Post

...mesmerizing, enormously satisfying... an uncommonly gripping and moving read.

NPR - Jessica Crispin

... not only a novel about motherhood; it's about love and accidents and art and the way a person's absence — whether a lover's or a mother's — can create an unmovable ache... not only beautiful and moving — it's saucy.

Indie Next List - Jude Sales, Readers' Books

The portraits of these women are spellbinding in their depth of understanding, and the way O'Farrell weaves them together is dazzling.

Publishers Weekly

If the contemporary storyline was developed half as well as the historical plot, this would be a wonderful book. As it is, it feels lighter than it should.

Library Journal

O'Farrell brings to mind Sue Miller but with a British and darker flavor; her sure hand for psychological suspense continues to be most impressive.

The Guardian (UK)

O'Farrell has a remarkable ability to convey the texture of human emotion with precision. In The Hand That First Held Mine, she also demonstrates a masterful gift for storytelling.

Author Blurb Heidi Julavits
Maggie O’Farrell’s cinematically vivid novel is moody and powerful and plotted at a breakneck pace. This book, like life, will disarm you with its unannounced twists and tragedies and moments of unexpected beauty. She delivers to readers that rarest of experiences—total emotional investment. Hers is a brilliant feat of prose marksmanship—also, it made me cry on the subway.

Author Blurb Tatiana de Rosnay
Maggie O’Farrell knows how to weave a bewitching tale, both thrilling and poetic. The Hand That First Held Mine will no doubt enrapture you, just as it has me.

Author Blurb Emma Donoghue
An exquisitely sensual tale of love, motherhood, and other forms of madness, The Hand That First Held Mine will unsettle, move, and haunt you.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

O'Farrell does not disappoint
The Hand That First Held Mine is Maggie O’Farrell’s fifth novel. Two stories are told in parallel: Lexie Sinclair quits Devon for London when the charismatic Innes Kent arrives on her doorstep, and starts her life at the heart of the 1950s Soho art ...   Read More

Lynn

Read this Book!
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 - none more so than Elina's fight to stay with ...   Read More

Elizabeth B. (Sunnyvale, CA)

The Hand That First Held Mine
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. ...   Read More

Christine P. (Pleasanton, CA)

The Hand That First Held Mine
Identity? What defines you as a person? What are the many factors that make us the person we will become? Maggie O’Farrell explores this subject in her latest novel, The Hand That First Held Mine, through the lives of two women, Lexie and Elina. ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

According to BookBrowse reviewer Marnie Colton, Maggie O'Farrell's dry wit and keen observations owe a debt to these predecessors:

Nina Bawden (b. 1925)
Nina Bawden, CBE, is one of Britain's most distinguished and best-loved novelists for adults and children. She has published over forty novels and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Circles of Deceit. In 2004 she received the PEN Award for a Lifetime's Service to Literature. A number of her works have been dramatized by BBC Children's television, and many have been translated into various languages. In March 2010, Bawden was shortlisted for the Lost Man Booker Prize, to be awarded by public vote in reparation for the prize's missing year owing to a change in rules. Nicola ...

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