TITLE: THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE
AUTHOR: MAGGIE O’FARRELL
Details: Reading Group book for
Dialogues Through Literature
From the back of the book:
“Fresh out of university and in disgrace, Lexie Sinclair is waiting for life to begin. When the sophisticated Innes Kent turns up on her doorstep in rural Devon, she realises she can wait no longer, and leaves for London. There, Lexie carves out a new life for herself at the heart of bohemian 1950’s Soho, with Innes by her side.
In the present, Ted and Elina no longer recognize their lives after the arrival of their first child. Elina, an artist, wonders if she will ever paint again, while Ted is disturbed by memories of his own childhood – memories that don’t tally with his parents’ version of events.
As Ted’s search for answers gathers momentum, so a portrait is revealed of two women separated by fifty years, but linked by their passionate refusal to settle for ordinary lives.”
What to say about this book? I was a bit disappointed by it. The blurb seemed to promise more than the book actually delivered. Yes it is a story set at two different times (the 1950’s and the present) and yes they are connected, but not in the way the blurb suggests. I didn’t see a lot of similarities between Elina and Lexie other than that they live their lives according to their own agenda. As for the connection between the two stories, I had that figured out long before the details were revealed in the story, which took some of the intended tension away.
I find myself getting increasingly annoyed with the blurbs that come with books. I realize that they are meant to make a book sound as enticing as possible in a limited amount of words, but is that really an excuse for suggesting story-lines that aren’t really there? In this case it is Ted’s search which is mentioned in the blurb but doesn’t really take place in the story. While Ted is aware that some things aren’t quite right with his memories, he isn’t actively looking for answers. And when he does stumble across the reason for his doubts it is by accident, and not the result of his “search”.
I did appreciate the realistic picture of motherhood this book gave. While there is no doubt that both Elina and Lexie love their sons with all their hearts, the story does show the insecurities, frustrations and complications that accompany motherhood. Having said that, Elina’s part of the story seemed to be about little else except the way in which she was adjusting to her new status, and that got a bit boring after a while. And I have a problem believing that it would have been easier for Lexie to adjust to motherhood, in her circumstances and during the 1960’s, than it was for Elina in the present.
Well written and easy to read I still found that the story in this book didn’t completely captivate me. I enjoyed reading it but wasn’t really interested in the characters or what was happening to them. It felt as if I was observing the story as it unfolded as through a mist, as if there was a barrier between me and it. This was especially true for the contemporary part of the story. I completely failed to connect with Ted and Elina. Lexie’s story was far more interesting, probably because her story covers a much longer period and had a lot more happening in it.
This is by no means a bad book and I’m sure there will be lots of readers for whom this book works perfectly well. It just wasn’t the book for me at this time. And considering that this book won the Costa Award, I’m perfectly willing to accept that this is the result of either my taste or my mood rather than the qualities of this book.