Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Post Number Five: The Hand That first Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

Book Stack with Coffee and ArmchairI love December 31st!  You will invariably find me in an armchair somewhere frantically finishing the last book of the year so that I can tally it with the rest. Then I tot up how may tomes I have devoured and compare with previous reading years.  I'm going to keep you in suspense as to my results, as I am excited about writing my next blog: the definitive review of 2014...namely what has Karen read and which books will make her top 10?!

In the meantime, sit back, get a cup of tea and a leftover Christmas biscuit and indulge in a bit of Maggie O'Farrell.  She is an exquisite author whose main fault is that she doesn't write anywhere near as quickly as I can read!  So true is this, that I owned Instructions for a Heatwave for several months before I actually read it.  The anticipation is definitely part of the joy of a favourite author.

So, as the year turned, I allowed myself the luxury of a re-read of one my favourites, The Hand That First Held Mine.
I began my blog in September, and those of you who have been with me from the outset might remember that I waxed lyrical about Dickens' ability to draw interesting, credible and amusing characters.  O'Farrell exhibits the same skill, but with modernity, creating characters who tug at the inner you and make empathy compulsory.

Image result for the hand that first held mineThis book won the Costa Novel Award in 2010; this rewards UK and Irish writers. More details can be found at I have enjoyed many of the shortlisted and winning authors from this competition, perhaps none more so than O'Farrell.

Those who know me may well reckon me to be practical, logical and not-at-all sentimental. I hate gush of any kind! But, I am not cold, and real emotion is what connects us as people, to one another. In The Hand That First Held Mine, two sets of lives are interwoven, with the connection between them moving from subtle hints of possibility, through to tentative conviction that the past offers something to the present and finally to a full and convincing revelation. And through it all is the bond of love between a mother and her child, beautifully depicted and devoid of sentiment. The creation of Elina in the modern story and of Lexie in 1950's London is the creation of an expression of maternal love. The backdrop for this is passion and affection for a soulmate; with both Ted and Innes created as soulmates for the female characters.  The coherence for the stories is provided by a key character...but no spoilers will find their way into my blogging!

It is interesting to note response to the stories as they develop.  I was more eager to hear of Elina and Ted as I started the book, but then the balance tipped, and it was Lexie whose story I wanted to immerse myself in. As the book draws to its climax, the distinction between the lives blurs and disappears, and the result is a satisfying, coherent read whose ending is not disappointing.  The characters stay with you as you imagine their story continuing beyond the pages, and the resounding emotion is that of love. Not a sentimental, unreliable depiction, but the bread-and-butter love that binds us together and makes us who we are.

Maggie O'Farrell is adept at characterisation and is highly skilled at the depiction of moments.  She writes expressively, with enough description to transport you but not so much that it overwhelms.

Without a doubt, one of my favourite modern authors, maybe even the number one spot....
A delightful way to end the year.

Please stay with me in 2015, and look forward to my reading review of the year...coming soon!

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