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Friday, November 12, 2010

The Hand That First Held Mine

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover $25
352 pages

I read Maggie O'Farrell's novel The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox a few years back and found it a haunting story. I looked forward to reading her next book, The Hand That First Held Mine.

It's not a book that grabbed me right away, but I'm glad I stuck with it because the resolution of the story was heartbreaking. O'Farrell expertly weaves two stories together, and I didn't know where she going with it until about three quarters of the way through, and then I was devastated.

The story alternates between Lexie, a young girl who leaves her family in the country to move to the big city after she meets a mysterious older man on the road outside her house. Innes Kent becomes her lover and mentor as she works for his magazine. Innes is married, but that doesn't stop them.

Years later we met Ted and Elina. Elina has just gone through a traumatic birth, losing four pints of blood in the process. She has a difficult time caring for the baby, but Ted must go back to work as an editor. He worries about Elina and the baby, and then he begins to have blackouts. The birth of his child has triggered something in him, something he has repressed.

Ted tries to put together what happened in his childhood that could be causing his troubles today. He remembers a lovely woman holding his hand, but it isn't the hand of his mother, who is a cold woman. As Ted tries to put the pieces together, the story lines meet.

O'Farrell is a marvelous story teller, and one passage just flat-out knocked me out. A mother, upon knowing she is drowning and will not see her young son grow thinks,
"She would not see him grow as tall as her then taller. She would not be there when someone first broke his heart or when he first drove a car or when he went out alone into the world or when he saw, for the first time, what he would do, how he would love and with whom and where. She would not be there to knock sand out of his shoes when he came off the beach. She would not see him again."
As a mother, those words just devastated me. It is every mother's nightmare.

I liked the character growth of Lexie, and that surprised me as I didn't like her at first. I also enjoyed that I didn't see where this book would end up, that is unusual for me, and I think that shows the skill of the author.

Rating 4 of 5 stars.


  1. I just read "The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox" and liked it a lot. She is a beautiful storyteller, especially in how slowly and deliberately she teases the story - and the secrets - out. I will look into this one too! Thanks for the review.

  2. Gayle- if you liked ESME, you'll love this one. She really surprised me with where she was going and how she got there. Thanks for the comment!