The more I write, the more I appreciate the art of others' writing: how to draw the reader in, how to avoid adverbs, how to create movement, passion or tension. In Maggie O'Farrell's The hand that first held mine I was reading the work of a master craftsman. I was gripped from the first paragraph, from the first word.
Listen. The trees in this story are stirring, trembling, readjusting themselves. A breeze is coming in gusts off the sea, and it is as if the trees know, in their restlessness, in their head-tossing impatience, that something is about to happen.
The story is split between the 1950s and the present day, between the vivacious Lexie striking out in 1950's bohemian Soho, London, and Ted & Elina's struggles with the birth of their firstborn child. They are linked, but only as the plot slowly unfolds do we piece together their combined histories. It is a story of love, of motherhood, of maternal obsession and passion.
To an extent, we know what will happen. We know there is some link. I assumed Lexie was related (mother? grandmother?) from the start, yet I think much of the art of this story is that I still wanted to know more, I still wanted to know when events would happen, how they fitted in. The characters were rich and believable, the narrative tracing the passage of time, tying all the people and places together in the seamless way that history evolves.
I read this for a local book group and was concerned that the week I had given myself might not be enough. However I could not put the book down. I even woke at 4am on Sunday morning wondering whether Ted was going to talk to Elina or not - and had to pick the book up again to find out!
I long to be able to write like this, drawing pictures with a minimum of words, crafting a story that tantalises and excites. I have been told that other books by Maggie O'Farrell are even better, so they are already added to my wishlist. I can thoroughly recommend reading it - do let me know what you think!
The hand that first held mine by Maggie O'Farrell, published by Headline
Support your local bookshop or library!