Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book 20: The Hand That First Held Mine

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

Maggie O'Farrell's novel After You'd Gone completely blew me away. I just loved how detailed the author was, how authentic the emotions seemed, and the non-linear structure. Her novel The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox didn't reach me the same way, but it was still a well-written story. Her novels may not have the most original ideas or be non-predictable, but her characters seem relatively real. The first novel was about love, loss and romantic relationships while the second dealt more with mothers and sisters (not that the mother-daughter relationship didn't play a role in the first but in that case it was more from the perspective of the daughter). Based on that, it is easy to think that the ideas may be related to what the author herself was currently going through - dating and marriage vs. motherhood, though I don't know what her biography is.

While The Hand That First Held Mine didn't capture me as much as After You'd Gone, I liked it more than I did The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. In fact it deals with all the themes of the previous two relationships: there is both the romantic relationship with the strong woman character as well as a look at motherhood, and different mothers.  The novel is set up as two interweaving stories, and flashes back forth between Elina, a new mother who almost died during childbirth, and Alexandra "Lexie" Sinclair.  Due to the extreme bloodloss during her labor, Elina is feeling especially disoriented as she adjusts to motherhood, and keeps losing chunks of time.  Her boyfriend Ted was so traumatized by almost losing her that he will not talk to her about what happened to fill in her memories.  Being around his new son also causes Ted to have odd flashbacks and memories from his childhood that don't quite fit.  While Elina's narrative takes place in the present, Lexie's story begins in the '50s in England after she has completed school and returned home.  Lexie does not fit in at home, and moves to London, becomes involved in the art scene and Soho, and falls in love.  Her character is very matter of fact about things in a way that seems almost unreal but she was without a doubt my favorite part of this novel (although I enjoyed Elina's dislike of her controlling, snobby mother-in-law).
Lexie's life leads her too many places she wouldn't have expected.  She works at an art magazine, becoming a writer, and falls in love with Innes Kent, the magazine's owner.  However, the novel constantly hints that there is not a happy ending in store for her, stating that her face would never be lined with age.  Since I have yet to read a novel with two story lines that don't end up connecting in some way, it is not difficult to guess what the connection between Elina and Lexie might be, but honestly, it doesn't matter.  The story wasn't engaging because I was trying to guess what was going to happen; I kept reading because I liked the characters, I wanted to see how they reacted, and I wanted more of Lexie.  Lexie was definitely more relatable for me since I'm not a mother, and much of her story is about a young woman discovering her potential, a new city and life.  However, the novel also shows how secrets can destroy lives.  At one point, Innes tells Lexie that young people like her always think the truth is so important even if it is painful, but it is exactly Innes's decision to withhold certain information that creates a lifelong enemy for Lexie, and causes some of the heartache later in the novel.

No comments: