Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Hand That First Held Mine


Did you like or maybe love The Vanishing Act of Esme Lenox? I did, love it I mean. That was my first experience with author Maggie O'Farrell. It made me go back and read her backlist-- excellent -- and be excited by the prospect of any new titles by her. Now----Ta Da! A new novel by Ms O'Farrell, The Hand That First Held Mine. Do I like it? Do I love it? Love it.

What a thrillingly (Is that a word?) expert writer O'Farrell is. Every word is a perfect choice and not one is wasted. Her novels are all about relationships. That sounds very boring and potentially awful but don't worry. To say that O'Farrell writes about relationships is like saying Fred Astaire can dance. You get a starting point but you actually have no idea of the talent, seemingly effortless skill and artistry that they bring to the job.

The Hand That First Held Mine covers the lives of two independent women. One of the women's stories is set in the 1950's and the other woman is in a contemporary setting. The novel is also about motherhood and time. In the earlier part of the story Lexie Sinclair is at the start of her career. She is a working journalist, in love and we're told going to die young. In the present day Finnish (Will this count as Scandinavian appeal?) artist Elina Vilkuna and her boyfriend Ted excitedly await the birth of their first child. After Elina almost dies during labor motherhood becomes an isolating and fearful experience. For Ted fatherhood brings up memories that distance him from his new family. Of course the parallel lives will somehow converge. How that is going to happen isn't telegraphed to you. There are subtle references but O'Farrell lets you discover the gaps in these lives as she builds tensions.

There is poetry in the writing of Maggie O'Farrell. She writes with such color and strength about the everyday and yet the novel is absolutely gripping. I have heard O'Farrell compared to Daphne Du Maurier and I agree. In the books of both of these writers are interesting, completely realized women coming to terms with the mysteries of fate. The Hand That First Held Mine is a wonderful puzzle that O'Farrell presents to you and she is the kind of writer that lets you have all the fun of solving it.


P.S. The U.K. cover? What do you think? Neither cover really appeals to me. The U.S. cover is flat and has a YA feel to it and the U.K. cover looks like the entire novel takes place in the 1950's. I don't like the balance of the U.K. cover either. It's very top heavy with all that varying type below.

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