The hand that first held mine by Maggie O’ Farrell

Another book I loved, one of those ones that I wanted to keep reading because the characters fascinated me. I wanted to meet them and drink coffee together. I now want to know how their lives have panned out since the end of the novel. Maybe have a glass of wine with them this time.

I really liked Maggie O’Farrell’s first novel, After You’d Gone, and her next one, My Lover’s Lover. The next few I found insipid, but she’s back on form with this one.

It’s about two women, one in the 1950s and the other in the present day. Alexandra lives in the country in the 50s; she’s twenty-one and feels trapped in her stifling family and the boring environment. I remember that sort of feeling – the kind where you fantasise that you must have been adopted. Her mother calls her ‘Sandra’, she wants to be called ‘Alexandra’. Sulking at the bottom of the garden one day, an apparition walks up to the fence in the form of a man called Innes Kent, whose car has broken down further down the lane (it’s the kind of village that has lanes, not roads). He has long hair, his shirt is high-collared and ‘daffodil yellow’, his suit is grey and his tie the colour of ‘duck eggs’. Alexandra has never met anyone like him before. On the spur of the moment, she tells Innes she is going to live in London soon. Calling her Lexie, he gives her his business card and tells her to look him up when she comes to the city.

The other main character is Elina, who we meet next. We are exposed to Elina’s post-natal confusion, in which she initially can’t even remember that she gave birth and walks around in a haze of mental anguish, limply looking after her baby. We gradually learn of the traumatic birth she had to go through and how she nearly died through loss of blood – it is no wonder she wanders around not knowing what’s going on. I could barely function after childbirth and mine was pretty normal.

Elina is married to Ted. Poor Ted. He has to keep working, look after his baby and try to keep Elina together. Elina hides as much as she can from Ted so that he doesn’t realise the extent of her mental confusion. They are both so traumatised they don’t give the baby a name for months (in the end he is called Jonah).

Lexie moves to London and meets up with Innes again and, predictable though it may be, they fall in love. In a yummy way. Innes lives the life that I once dreamed about – he’s the editor of a successful magazine with offices in Soho, drives a sports car and lives in an exotic flat in London. Well, fat good that did him since he died. Sorry, ruining the story, but I quite liked the fact that he did because it meant that Lexie’s life wasn’t all roses which made the book all the more believable.

As Elina improves, Ted starts¬†disintegrating, haunted by flashes of memories of being very young, being with adults he can’t identify. He gets paralysed by flashing headaches now and then and is unable to work out what’s happening to him.

Enough said of the plot, it all ends in a satisfactory way with a twist that I didn’t really foresee, although I might have been reading too late at night. Whether you work it out before the end or not, this is a book well worth reading and enjoying, perhaps over the upcoming Easter holidays.

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Author: Nella

Passionate reader, sometime writer, part-time librarian. I couldn't survive without books. And, I suppose, my children. Or my cats. Or my dog. I read books and look after others.

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