Maggie O’Farrell’s The Hand That First Held Mine may not be the most challenging piece of fiction I’ve read in recent months, but it is definitely one of the most enrapturing. The novel tells the vibrant tale of two seemingly separate lives led in different time periods in London. First is Lexie, a 20-something girl leaving her family home for adventure and freedom in the city in the mid-1950s. Though she’s long dreamed of escaping her roots, it isn’t until a stranger named Innes stops by her house seeking assistance with his broken-down car that she finally decides to flee. The relationship between the two grows ever stronger once Lexie arrives in London and the charming Innes, editor of a small Soho-based art magazine, absolutely dotes on her, showing her the ins and outs of the publishing world and London at large.
In parallel we follow Elina, a new mother who suffered a great deal of blood loss during the recent delivery of her baby son. From the first her memory comes in fits and starts, so she finds herself unable to recall how she passes the time or gets from one room in her house to another. Her concerned husband Ted is a movie editor, tied to a demanding job but more preoccupied with the wellbeing of his wife and premature child. As they both learn to juggle parenthood with their marriage and Elina’s health issues, Ted begins to suffer torments all his own.
The Hand That First Held Mine is one of those novels that tells two stories in tandem, keeping readers guessing at what ultimately ties them together. Lexie and Elina are connected in ways that you’ll think you have figured out, only to realize you’ve been mistaken and misled. The novel becomes quite bewitching, especially by the halfway mark, earning it definite page-turner status.
Not quite a romance novel, nor pure a family saga, The Hand That First Held Mine tells the haunting story of two women whose lives run very much in parallel, despite the span of a few decades’ time. The thread connecting Lexie and Elina is, however, much more concrete than it first appears and O’Farrell weaves a wonderful story of it all. Though I wasn’t completely hooked until the mystery began to more fully unfold, O’Farrell tells an exceedingly vivid tale that had me up until 2:00 in the morning anxious to reach the last page.