The Hand that First Held Mine

By Maggie O'Farrell
The Hand that First Held Mine cover



When the sophisticated Innes Kent turns up on her doorstep, Lexie Sinclair realises she cannot wait any longer for her life to begin, and leaves for London. There, at the heart of the 1950s Soho art scene, she carves out a new life. In the present day, Elina and Ted are reeling from the difficult birth of their first child. Elina struggles to reconcile the demands of motherhood with sense of herself as an artist, and Ted is disturbed by memories of his own childhood that don't tally with his parents' version of events. As Ted begins to search for answers, an extraordinary portrait of two women is revealed, separated by fifty years, but connected in ways that neither could ever have expected.

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O’Farrell is often packaged as a chick-lit author, yet the literary devices and incisive wit she deploys in this portrait of the nature of being a parent and the nature of being a child are formidable. Few authors make their narratives as filmic as O’Farrell, with flashbacks and rewinds, zoom ins and fade outs. It packs a hefty emotional punch, and lingers in the mind in a melancholy manner. -- Stuart Kelly