The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published on: April, 2010
Page Count: 341
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Reading Format: ARC and hardcover review copy sent to me by the publisher
Available Formats: hardcover, audio book
Synopsis from Barnes & Noble:
Lexie Sinclair cannot stay. Enclosed within her parents’ genteel country lawn, she yearns for more. She makes her way to the city, and meets a magazine editor, Innes, a man unlike any she has ever imagined. He introduces her to the thrilling world of bohemian postwar London, and she learns to be a reporter, to know art and artists, to live 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 by a man wholly unsuitable for marriage or fatherhood, she doesn’t hesitate for a minute to have the baby on her own.
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 return more frequently, we discover that something connects these two stories—these two women—something that becomes all the more heartbreaking and beautiful as they all hurtle toward its revelation.
Post-Partum issues have been all over my reading lately. Although her children were older, April from Revolutionary Road clearly had issues. Elina from The Hand that First Held Mine does as well. We first meet Elina in bed at home with Ted upset that their baby was gone. While Ted misunderstood her to mean that someone had taken the baby from their home, Elina meant that the baby was missing from her womb. She could not remember giving birth to their son at all. That was just the beginning of the issues she encountered as a woman approaching new motherhood after a difficult, nearly fatal, birth. Couple her reality with Ted’s growing sense that something isn’t right with himself and it’s enough to put anyone on edge. While her experiences and mine were different, I felt so close to her because I understood exactly what she was going through. In fact, there was one similarity between her baby and mine that I reread the section to make sure I wasn’t inserting my own experience into Elina’s. I hadn’t been and, unlike earlier reading, this comforted me instead of making me anxious. This novel validated my life experience in that way.
Lexie’s story is a rebelliously fun ride through London’s Soho district during it’s Bohemian days. Lexie had the spunk to renounce the life of her parents and take off for the big city in a time when “good girls” didn’t go anywhere or do much of anything by themselves. She was a free spirit who experienced the misfortune of loving and being loved by an unhappily married man. Her sections of the novel were filled with art determination. As much as I found a kindred spirit in Elina, I had fun with Lexie and when the links between their two stories began to emerge, it was very satisfying.
I have always wanted to read Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. I hadn’t, and that was why I agreed to read this novel when asked by her publicist. I didn’t want O’Farrell to drop off my radar. She most definitely will not. Not only did I enjoy her story telling, her writing enhanced it. Although I would caution those readers currently experiencing Post-Partum Depression or those who still become uncomfortable reading about it, I highly recommend The Hand That First Held Mine. It’s a vivid story of motherhood that honors the whole woman.
P.S. When I received the hardcover review copy from Megan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Thanks so much, Megan!), I absolutely fell in love with it. Seriously, it is the most beautiful book I’ve seen in a long time. The jacket is velum and I spent a long time just admiring it. I love books, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a reaction like that. It’s simply gorgeous! Also, Megan sent me a link to this YouTube video of Maggie O’Farrell. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
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