The Hand That First Held Mine
By Maggie O'Farrell
PBR Book Review:With an understated but clear writing style, Maggie O’Farrell writes about finding love, the essence of being female and embracing motherhood. This is a story that follows two women, a generation apart in age who share a passion for their work and motherhood. Each has a dynamic personality and is easy to care about. Although both stories are engaging, personally I found Lexie’s story more compelling. She is a free spirited soul, who at 19 moves to 1950’s London, lives her life with passion, discovers her true self and develops into a remarkably talented woman. The other is Elina whose story revolves around a difficult childbirth and the struggles of early parenthood. Maggie O’Farrell does an outstanding job describing the postpartum period a woman experiences and also the major impact a baby has on a new mother and a marriage. One thing that bothered me was until the end when everything merged together, I felt like I was reading two unrelated short stories in alternating chapters. Trying to discern the connection between the two was distracting, at least for me. In summary, a fascinating story with many twists that will have appeal to those who appreciate a more literary writing style and engaging characters. Winner of the 2010 Costa Award.
Book Club Talking Points: Talking Points:
This is a book that in a very real sense captures what it means to be a wife and mother. The issues of being a new mother and a working woman with a child are beautifully outlined showing how having a child changes a woman and the dynamics of a marriage. It also shines a light on relationships; those between man and woman and between parent and child. This book will appeal to book clubs who enjoy a more literary read with the main focus of the book character development.
*Author Website: http://www.maggieofarrell.com/
*Other Books by Same Author: “The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox","The Distance Between Us","My Lover's Lover","After You’d Gone"
1) THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE shifts between two time frames: the 1950s/1960s and the present day. How convincingly does Maggie O’Farrell evoke these two particular periods of time?
2) When we first encounter Elina, something is very clearly wrong. How successfully does Maggie O’Farrell convey this very intense emotional state?
3) At the beginning of the novel, Lexie is very young and impetuous. Did your feelings for her change at all as she matures?
4) Innes is remarkably charming, but he also betrays his family for Lexie. How did you feel about Innes, and did you find that you were able to forgive him for his infidelity?
5) How did you feel about Gloria and Margot? Were you able to understand their motivations for behaving in the way they did? Are you able to feel at all sympathetic towards them?
6) As Elina gradually becomes less vulnerable throughout the course of the novel, there is a shift as she – and the reader – become increasingly concerned about Ted. At what point in the novel did you feel that Elina began to take more control over her situation?
7) Lexie and Elina’s experiences of motherhood are different in some ways, yet complimentary in others. To what extent do you think this difference can be accounted for by the different periods in which each woman is living?
8) The linked stories gradually come together. At what point did you become aware of the connection between Elina and Lexie? How effectively did you feel the interlocking narratives were handled by the author?
9) What did you think of Ted? Is this a sympathetic portrayal of fatherhood?
10) THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE deals with themes of creativity and motherhood. On the basis of this novel, how would you say the author feels that parenthood affects one’s ability to create art?
11) The idea of suppressed childhood memory features strongly in the novel. What does Maggie O’Farrell’s treatment of this subject tell us about childhood and parenthood?
12) Elina’s discovery about the paintings is a turning point in the novel. What do the paintings mean to Elina and Ted? What does it mean for Ted that he has been denied this connection with his past?
13) What did you think of the ending? Did the fact that the novel ends with the act of writing have any particular significance for you?
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010 - Fiction - 341 pages|
Lexie Sinclair is plotting an extraordinary life for herself. Hedged in by her parents' genteel country life, she plans her escape to London. There, she takes up with Innes Kent, a magazine editor who wears duck-egg blue ties and introduces her to the thrilling, underground world of bohemian, post-war Soho. She learns to be a reporter, to know art and artists, to embrace 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, she doesn't hesitate to have the baby on her own terms. Later, in present-day London, a young painter named Elina dizzily navigates the first weeks of motherhood. She doesn't recognize herself: she finds herself walking outside with no shoes; she goes to the restaurant for lunch at nine in the morning; she can't recall the small matter of giving birth. But for her boyfriend, Ted, fatherhood is calling up lost memories, with images he cannot place. As Ted's memories become more disconcerting and more frequent, it seems that something might connect these two stories-- these two women-- something that becomes all the more heartbreaking and beautiful as they all hurtle toward its revelation. The Hand That First Held Mine is a spellbinding novel of two women connected across fifty years by art, love, betrayals, secrets, and motherhood. Like her acclaimed The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, it is a "breathtaking, heart-breaking creation."*And it 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.*The Washington Post Book World