Winner of the 2010 Costa Novel Award and a Sunday Times bestseller, THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE by Maggie O'Farrell is a gorgeously written story of love and motherhood from the author of HAMNET and I AM, I AM, I AM.
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 her 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.
O'Farrell (TheVanishing Act of Esme Lennox) interweaves two seemingly unconnected stories that of Lexie Sinclair, living in post-WWII London, and Elina Vilkuna, a denizen of present-day London. Lexie is a rebellious 21-year-old, and when she meets handsome and sophisticated Innes Kent, she realizes he's the one who can help her find the adventure and excitement she craves. Their affair coincides with her moving up in the ranks at the magazine he edits, but a tragedy changes Lexie's life forever. Fifty-odd years later, Elina, a painter, faces her own struggles: she recently had a son with her boyfriend, Ted, and, after a rough child-birth, Ted and Elina struggle to recalibrate their relationship as it evolves into parenthood. While O'Farrell brings Lexie to life, she does not achieve the same with Elina and Ted, who come across as just another bland couple facing the challenges of having a child. The two plots are, naturally, connected, but the contemporary plot doesn't really get moving until too late in the book. If the contemporary storyline was developed half as well as the historical plot, this would be a wonderful book. As it is, it feels lighter than it should.