The Hand That First Held Mine

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell is one of those surprisingly riveting literary novels that will have you in tatters when you turn its final pages. It’s a novel about motherhood and madness and, not surprisingly, family secrets.

O’Farrell’s novel has two storylines, one in the past and one in the present. In the past we meet Lexie, a headstrong young woman who follows a man in a duck-egg-blue tie to start her life in postwar London. In present-day London, Elina has just had a baby but is fuzzy about the details and her husband, Ted, seems to have been thrown for a loop by his son’s traumatic birth.

Scissoring back in forth through O’Farrell’s deft, cinematic prose, Lexie and Elina and Ted’s stories start to unfold. Discovering just how they are connected was only part of the enjoyment for me. The Hand That First Held Mine wound up reeling me in because of the writing and because I began to care so deeply about the characters.

After finishing it, I raced out and read her previous book, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which also explores the themes of family secrets and madness. There was a passage in Esme Lennox that I thought spoke beautifully to both books:

We are all, Esme decides, just vessels through which identities pass: we are lent features, gestures, habits, then we hand them on. Nothing is our own. We begin in the world as anagrams of our antecedents.

See–Maggie O’Farrell can really write. She knows how to write moving stories and moving characters. To borrow from Kaite, my crystal ball predicts that The Hand That First Held Mine and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox will become book group darlings and mainstays, for sure.



About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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