May 07, 2010

The Hand That First Held Mine - Maggie O'Farrell

To say that I am totally in love with this book would be an understatement! I have only just finished it a couple of hours ago and I would usually wait to write about my responses to a book on my blog but I really want to just capture my initial, instinctive responses to this one rather than try to write a reasoned review.
Ever since reading my first Maggie O'Farrell book, After You'd Gone, I have been devoted to this author and her writing - each book I read becomes my new favourite of hers and The Hand That First Held Mine is no exception - I have only just finished it but all I want to do is go back and read it all over again.
The book tells the alternate stories of Lexie Sinclair, a country girl who moves to London in the 1950's with her lover and the modern day story of Elina and Ted who have just had their first child and are adjusting to all that comes with that significant and dramatic life change.
In some ways this book covers everyday topics, love, birth, relationships, work but it is the way that it approaches them that makes the book so magical. Each of the characters and story lines are infused with emotion - not a kind of soppy, soap opera emotion but the emotion of everyday lives and actions. I found the scenes where Elina first comes home with her newborn boy raw and honest;

If she could just sleep, everything would be all right. Just a stretch of three hours, four maybe. She is so tired that if she turns her head there is a crackling sound, like someone crumpling paper. But she keeps moving. She moves around the kitchen, past the cooker, past the kettle, past the answerphone, which is telling her she has no fewer than thirteen messages, round by the fridge and back, an ache pulsing in her temples.

The two stories eventually come together in a way I honestly did not see coming - but even if I had it would not have ruined the story for me in any way - because I saw the coming together of the two stories as really the whole point. I was crying at the end - something that I rarely do in novels.
I am now in a cover dilemma as I do want to buy a copy of this for myself. The cover on sale in Australia is the one at the top of this post (and this is growing on me...) but the cover of the copy I read from my library, and the one I do love the most I think, is below;

Dilemma!! Which one do you like best?

Oh - and make sure you read this book - whatever cover you choose!


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to see your enthusiasm for this book Karen, as like yourself I've loved all of O'Farrells books and happily bought this yesterday. I hope it lives up to exectations!

Tamara said...

Hi Karen, sounds like another good read. Didn't we read one of her's once in bookclub? one book covers, I like the second one best - it seems to reflect the faces of two women. Given your review, that seems appropriate.

Steph said...

I was lucky enough to read an ARC of this one (and even better yet, it had the pretty cover you feature on the bottom! No contest, that one's my favorite!) and really loved it. It was my first exposure to O'Farrell and I wasn't sure what to expect but I was blown away. It was so intense! And what powerful and poetic writing! Definitely will be reading more of her in the future!

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

Oh, I am so excited about this one (and frustrated by the long library queue). Very, very happy to hear that you enjoyed it - I'm now even more eager to read it for myself. I like both covers but I think the second one would be my choice: it has a rather classic, timeless appeal.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

Every great review of this book I see makes me even more eager to read it! My copy is waiting on my desk but and like you, I have loved O'Farrell since "After You'd Gone". I can't wait to read it and I'm glad to know that, having read her previous books, you loved this one as much.

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I definitely prefer the bottom one. That is the one I have.

Karen said...

Hi adevotedreader - I hope it lives up to expectations for you too!!

Hi T - I'm not sure if we read one of hers for book club or not?? I like your comment about the second cover suiting the book more - it is so true.

Hi Steph - So glad you loved your first foray into O'Farrell's work!

Hi Claire - I hope that library line moves fast for you!!

Hi Kay - I hope you love it as much as I did. For me, O'Farrell just keeps getting better and better.

Hi Thomas - it looks like that cover is the clear winner!

Cath said...

I love the second--so ethereal. I didn't notice the second face at first and then I did and it gave me shivers.

This book is on my must-read list. I plan on devouring it once final exams are over!

Elise said...

I've only read one book by Maggie O'Farrell, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, and I was underwhelmed :( I'm not sure if I should try another because I hear so man positive reviews but I always find a book I want to read more! Maybe you've convinced me, I'll think about it!! And as for the covers, I (frivolously) always buy the cover I love the most, even if I have to order it from overseas. Pathetic, but so satisfying!

Karen said...

Hi Connie - all the best for your exams!

Hi Elise - I totally agree with you about the covers! Although I loved The Vanishing Act it was quite a different book to O'Farrell's other books so I would suggest giving one of the others a go if you are still interested.

claire said...

Maggie O'Farrell never appealed to me before, even though I noticed that gorgeous cover at the bottom. Steph recommended it to me, though, and I trust her on this. And now that you love it, too, I'm even more eager to read this! I admit the bottom cover is the more beautiful, but there's something about it that puts me (just a little) off, and that's it is a little chick-litty (I am so bad!). The top cover I probably like better (as opposed to everyone else) because it has a retro feel which appeals to me.

iwishiwas said...

I had the same response as you,just loved it, best book in ages. Just reading the opening lines again with the trees stirring restlessly makes me want to read all over again. Lexie is such a great character who also made me cry.

The Book Whisperer said...

I am dying to read this book - I have heard so many good things about it. Have you read The Vanshing Act of Esme Lennox yet? I adored that book and can highly recommend.

Loving your blog, by the way. I think we have fairly similar taste in books so I'll continue popping by :)

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