Sunday, July 31, 2011
Review: The Hand that first held mine by Maggie O'Farrell
Genre: Adult, Literary Fiction
Published by: Headline Review
A gorgeously written story of love and motherhood, this is a tour de force from one of our most acclaimed and best loved novelists. When the bohemian, sophisticated Innes Kent turns up by chance on her doorstep, Lexie Sinclair realises she cannot wait any longer for her life to begin, and leaves for London. There, at the heart of the 1950s Soho art scene, she carves out a new life for herself, with Innes at her side. In the present day, Elina and Ted are reeling from the difficult birth of their first child. Elina, a painter, struggles to reconcile the demands of motherhood with sense of herself as an artist, and Ted is disturbed by memories of his own childhood, memories that don't tally with his parents' version of events. As Ted begins to search for answers, so an extraordinary portrait of two women is revealed, separated by fifty years, but connected in ways that neither could ever have expected.
'The Hand That First Held Mine' by Maggie O'Farrell is one of those books that surprises you and teaches you lessons that you didn't expect to learn. Before reading the novel, I expected a love story. I expected this because of the title. After making it much of the way through the book it became apparent to me that hand holding is as much a part of love as it is a part of childhood and parenthood. That in holding a hand the character was holding his mother's hand. From that point on the novel really changed for me.
This novel teaches- above all other lessons- that life isn't always chronological. In life people take one step forward and two steps back. They are shaped by their pasts and are constantly learning new things about their past. Even though time continually travels forward, our life is most impacted by what happened before. This novel was a sort of "How did we get here?" in beautifully written words.
I had really High expectations of the novel and felt a little disappointed by how confusing and boring it was. What did these two lives have to do with each other? Why was it called "The hand that first held mine" when one of the characters is pregnant? I thought for a love story that it was becoming awfully tragic. So tragic that I kept waiting for something worse to happen. After about half way I realised that there must be some other intended meaning or revelation and so I continued on.
I thought this book was in a way a little like "The third angel" by Alice Hoffman. I love novels where the reader gets to see the characters lives pieced together. I was constantly getting that amazed feeling when something new was revealed. It was really interesting to see how peoples lives could fit together in ways that not even they new and I thought that was kind of magical.
The writing style was flawless. At one point I thought that the writing was perhaps a little staged and a little too well thought out. This feeling lasted about 30 seconds before I went back to admiring the wording again. I think this book could be appreciated just because of the writing. It must have taken a lot of skill and thought for O'Farrell to write in this particular style. A style that was very picturesque.
I think the one thing that kept me interested in the novel was the characters. I really liked the three main characters: Lexie, Ted and Elina. Even though I had my doubts about other aspects of the book these things were a constant. I really felt for these characters and wanted them to be happy.
One thing that I didn't like about the book was some of the more grotesque descritpions and events. When Elina has a cesarean she talks and thinks about the streams of blood. This grosses me out. Also another scene about a baby and it's runny waste. I know these things are true to life and are probably more realistic, but they made me loose interest in the story. Isn't fiction supposed to be fiction? Sometimes when writing becomes too realistic it feels a little depressing to read.
Overall I give this book 4.5/5 stars. It had a great ending and was definitely a beautiful story. I don't think the book stands up to the reviews and ratings that I have seen, but it is pretty close. I would recommend this to people who enjoyed Hoffman's 'Skylight Confessions'. It is definitely a quirky read that will pull at your heart strings.
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