Review: The Hand That First Held Mine

The Hand That First Held Mine
Maggie O’Farrell

A powerful novel, one that sneaks up at you and socks you in the gut. It starts off innocuously enough, a young girl in the Devon countryside is intrigued enough by a charming stranger from London to decide to give up her home and all that is familiar to her to run off to the big city and start life from scratch. Lexie Sinclair, or Alexandra as she was christened and Sandra as her parents called her, is a freespirit and in Innes Kent, the editor of the art magazine Elsewhere, separated from his harridan wife and the daughter who is not his, she finds love, a mentor and belonging. Flitting between Lexie in the 1950s and the present is the story of Elina, a painter, who has just been through a traumatic delivery, and who is still getting used to the concept of motherhood. Her partner, Ted, starts experiencing wierd flashbacks and pauses in his consciousness which lead him to start questioning all that he has held true of his childhood and all that he was told. Memory is the underlying lietmotif of the novel, Elina’s memory erasure of sorts post her traumatic delivery, which almost sees her bleed to death, Ted’s vivid flashbacks to memories that don’t fit in with what he has been told about his childhood. Metaphoric is Ted’s job as a film editor where he has to splice together frames and edit out unwanted elements, which is so in consonance with his personal efforts to put together the jigsaw puzzles of his memory flashbacks and the linear structure of his childhood as he thinks it happened.
The lives of these three individuals are linked in some way, we realise, but exactly how is not made clear till the very end and it is to the credit of the author that she manages to keep the skeins of the story separate until the final revelation. The style of narrative flits between the author being an observer and from the perspective of the character, but in such a smooth fashion that the shift in perspective never jars, but serves to heighten the anticipation in the story.
The writing is brisk, lyrical and haunting in parts, emotional and in parts, sheer poetry in prose. This is a book that will haunt you, especially so if you are a mother, in which case, it will cut you clean to the bone.

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About Kiran Manral

Author of The Face At The Window, ( 2016), Karmic Kids, All Aboard (2015) , Once Upon A Crush (2014) and The Reluctant Detective (2011).
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