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Saturday, 6 May 2017

Review: The Hand That First Held Mine, Maggie O'Farrell

Two very different worlds and the lives of two different women are explored in this rich and deep novel by Maggie O'Farrell.

Lexie Sinclair, a woman who knows her own mind and isn't afraid to show it - even during a time when that was a particularly undesirable trait in a woman - catches what seems the luckiest of breaks, even though she doesn't want to acknowledge it at first. A man and a broken down car is all it needs for Lexie to seize an opportunity to up sticks from her stifling home in Devon and carve out a life for herself in London. She falls in fiery, passionate love, suffers a tragedy and yet carries on, and works hard to give herself the kind of life she wants and deserves. I loved her tenacity, her determination, her resolve to do what she wants and be beholden to no man, whatever their relationship.

Elina, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish. Unrecognisable from the woman she was before she went through a horribly traumatic birth that she doesn't even remember, her days are spent with her newborn living through moments that feel like eternities, wondering if this is all her life will be. I found O'Farrell's narration of Elina's life painfully recognisable - but even if you don't, you can't help but feel a gutting sympathy for her. Not only is there the baby, though, but her husband, who seems to be going through strange lapses relating - he thinks - to his loss of memories of his childhood.

It takes a while before you see how the stories are connected, but when you do it's with a gasp of, 'oh no'.

The writing is heartrending, painfully authentic, and beautiful. And the ending hits you like a smack in the face. Don't finish it at night. Personally, I had to wake my husband up so I could sob all over him. Luckily for me, he took it with good grace.

If you enjoy writing that is elegant yet sucker-punching, a story with romance but without the cheese, and are not averse to a bit of story induced sobbing, then this book is for you.

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