The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
Lexie Sinclair cannot stay. Enclosed within her parents’ genteel country lawn, she yearns for more. She makes her way to the big city, hungry for life and love, where she meets a magazine editor, Innes, a man unlike any she has ever imagined. He introduces her to the thrilling underground 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. When that love is threatened, she nearly loses the self she worked so hard to find. But then, she will create 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, to be shaped by her love for her child. 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. A stunning portrait of motherhood and the artist’s life in all their terror and glory, Maggie O’Farrell’s newest novel 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.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of the most interesting novels I've read in some time. I will admit that I initially struggled with the book ... I was loving what I was reading (the writing is just incredible) but I had NO idea where it was going or how it was going to all come together. Yet, the stories were so compelling and the writing was so fantastic that I was unable to stop reading it, despite my initial confusion.
Maggie O'Farrell's stellar writing style will capture your imagination in an entirely new and unique way. One moment you're here, then you're there and then you find yourself somewhere else. And you only slowly begin to see how it all comes together as the novel moves along. It's like opening a wonderfully wrapped package to find something amazing. I don't know how else to express how much I enjoyed this aspect of the book. The characters, the plot ... all fantastic! But, what I think struck me the most is that O'Farrell was able to so effectively capture so much of the more trivial aspects of our lives. The very things that we experience every day as we journey through our experiences are so effectively expressed in this novel. There were moments that I would stop and read something over and over because I was amazed at how closely the description matched how I felt when experiencing something similar. The descriptions just come alive on the page, O'Farrell breathes life into what we often think of as being less than interesting, making them utterly fascinating.
I felt compelled several times to pull out my notebook to make note of certain passages that just resonated with me. This was the case, in particular, when O'Farrell describes new motherhood. The sense of being consumed with this new role of Mother. The physical and mental impact to a woman and her relationship with the father of the child. The overwhelming love, fear and confusion that I experienced in those early days came alive while I read this novel. I found myself really resonating with that aspect of this book.
A passage that comes to mind as a great example of what I'm trying to describe is one where one of the characters wonders the following in the days after having her first child - "How did she become this -- a woman in stained pajamas, standing weeping at a window, a woman frequently possessed by an urge to run through the streets, shouting, will somebody please help me, please?"
What amazed me about this novel was how O'Farrell took the stories of two fairly ordinary women and made them extraordinary with her beautiful writing and her ability to bring the story together. I truly felt as if I'd been on a wonderful journey after finishing the book and putting it down. As if I came to know the characters in a way that made me feel a part of the story itself.
Lastly, the cover art of this novel is simply AMAZING. I cannot stop looking at it ... it's just stunning!
This is a book that I definitely recommend, particularly if you love great writing, interesting plotting and characters that just jump off the page ...
NOTE: I received the galley proofs of this title from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for review.
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