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Monday, January 14, 2013

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell~★★★★

Author: Maggie O'Farrell
Title: The Hand That First Held Mine
Release Date: April 12, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre:  Fiction

Book Jacket: "Hedged in by her parents' genteel county 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, postwar 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 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 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 of art, love, betrayals, secrets, and motherhood. 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."

Taryn's Review: "She has no idea that she will die young, that she does not have as much time as she thinks." This passage grabbed me on page 50. I read it and then re-read it again. I stared at it. Lexie would die? I couldn't believe the author inserted such an ominous detail into the story that early. I wondered if knowing this fact would affect my enjoyment of the story.

I am pleased to say it did not! O'Farrell wove together the stories of two women who appeared to be unconnected at first read. Lexie Sinclair, a young English woman who moved to London in the 1950s was juxtaposed to Elina Vilkuna, a contemporary Finnish artist living in London with her English boyfriend, Ted. There was a 50-year gap between the two women's lives, yet something linked the women.

I thoroughly delighted in reading Lexie's story. That is not to say I agreed with the decisions that Lexie made throughout her life, but O'Farrell's incredible talent as a writer was highlighted in Lexie's story. Elina's story was harder for me to connect with. I read an interview that O'Farrell gave and she talked about her struggles with motherhood and how she wanted to convey that into her work. An admirable idea, but I don't think this book was the forum to do that. It caused me to detach from Elina and cling to Lexie's story. After reading the book I can appreciate the way O'Farrell creatively drew Ted into the story, but I really would have loved to read more of his point-of-view and less of Elina's point-of-view.

This is the kind of book you'll have to keep reading to discover the secrets and twists stashed away in the pages. The weaknesses in Elina's story downgraded the book to a four star book, but O'Farrell's talent radiated as an author with Lexie's story. I really liked this book, which was a great surprise to me since I simply yanked it off the shelf as I rushed out the library at closing time!

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