Listen The trees in this story are stirring, trembling, readjusting themselves A breeze is coming in gusts off the sea, and it is almost as if the trees know, in their restlessness, in their head tossing impatience, that something is about to happen A graveled path curves towards the front door of the house On the washing line, petticoats and vests, socks and stays, nappies and handkerchiefs snap and writhe in the breeze A radio can be heard from somewhere, one of the neighbouring houses perhaps, and the muffled thwack of an axe falling on wood And so, I was lost to these words, lost and found in another place in time, which took my breath away Having just read herThe Vanishing Act of Esme Lennoxmere days ago, which also swept me into her story from the start, I m once again in awe of her skills as a writer Not only her ability to craft lovely sentences, paragraphs, but her ability to weave together two stories that join together with such perfection that I am in awe.Alexandra, or Sandra as her mother calls her a nickname she detests will eventually go by Lexie, a nickname given her by a man she has not met quite yet She is twenty one as this begins, and eager for life beyond the four walls of her parents house, and the small life she has living on this country laneShe has a creeping fear of late that what she wants most for her life to begin, to take on some meaning, to turn from blurred monochrome into glorious technicolour may pass her by That she might not recognize it if it comes her way, might fail to grasp for it Innes Kent is just down the road from her at this moment, a thirty four year old man, an art dealer and journalist, and many things but the one thing he is not is a car mechanic which would certainly come in handy now that his car, a silver and ice blue MG, has broken down.It is later on, in 1950 s London is where this story really begins, in and around Soho, and I wandered through these streets with Lexie as she slowly learns what she wants from this life.An alternating storyline that takes place some fifty or so years later, where we follow the lives of Elina and Ted, which weaves through this book, as well It all is so seamless that it doesn t feel disruptive, with transitions that seem effortless and natural Many of my friends have read and loved her books, Angela, and Betsy come to mind quickly, as well as Debbie and her pogo stick , who hasn t read this one, yet, but has become a fan Angela s review for This Must Be the Place was the one I remember wanting to read first, but I ve read these in the order my library has them available for me and I m not complaining I hate to leave this one behind, but I hear others calling me Of note at the end of this story there is another story a short story, which others have also mentioned, The House I Live In, which I also loved A somewhat haunting tale This story can also be read online s review s review s review thanks, as well, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book Oh no, another favourite author releasing a new title cue the sickening feelings of anxiety when I settle into the story , wondering if it will meet my expectations but any fears are quickly assuaged as I become immersed in this, Maggie O Farrell s fifth novel I devoured it in a few sittings one of those books you are eager to embrace but loath to leave.Like it s predecessor, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, there is a cleverly woven dual narrative, one set in the 1950s 1960s in Bohemian London and the contemporary story, again set in London In the 50s setting, Lexie leaves the bucolic setting of her family home in Devon at the tender age of 21, intent on finding a new life in London She meets and is seduced by Innes Kent, a seemingly most unsuitable partner and they fall for each other, working together on a magazine in Soho From an, at times, irritating ingenue Lexie develops into a strong, independent woman working her way up in the male dominated sector of journalism It s fair to say that life does not treat her that kindly she becomes a single mother without any family support, her family disowns her when she takes up with Innes The modern day story focuses on Elina, a Finnish painter who lives with her partner, Ted When we first encounter Elina she seems to be suffering some sort of post traumatic disorder following a particuarly harrowing emergency caesarean birth and to begin with, motherhood does not sit very well with her especially as she seems to have blotted out all memories of giving birth Later, Ted is the one to suffer flashbacks of suppressed memories and you start to wonder if this couple can withstand the immediate changes brought to the dynamic of their relationship by the arrival of the Baby I must say, it s refreshing to see a novelist showing how new parenthood can cause a seismic shift in a partnership it doesn t matter what class you are, how old you are, being a parent makes you feel vulnerable.There is a link between these two stories, a connection which gradually reveals itself as the novel progresses with a series of teasing hints and clues sprinkled in the narrative However, I feel that the bridge between the two stories is less important than the common themes which colour both there is love, romantic love, platonic love, maternal love, paternal love, infatuation, passion, contentment in another s company There is loss and grief and how we deal with such facts of life There is the recurrent motif of family secrets and lies which can cloud future generations Maggie O Farrell is an expert at portraying well rounded, feisty female characters but here she also succeeds in capturing a very strong sense of male sensibilities via Ted and also Innes It certainly serves to create a balanced storyline to have both male and female perspectives, especially how the different male characters react to fatherhood.It s clear that Maggie O Farrell has done her research I could sense the sounds, sights and smells of 50s Soho and in the modern day setting, I could empathise with the trauma of an emergency caesarean and the slightly surreal atmosphere which accompanies the arrival of your first child She has a lightness of touch which tempers the research and lets the narrative flow Yes, it s a novel which deals with a lot of sadness and grief but there is a feeling of optimism, of looking ahead also which lifts it from the doldrums So, not that I m impatient but.when will we get the next novel I don t think I can wait another four years. 4.7, rounded up because I just had toThis writer, this Maggie O Farrell, just wow I ve never read five books by any writer before and I did this all within a year what That should give you a hint of how ga ga I am over Maggie dearest Can I call her Maggie, please, as if we re all chummy chummy, since I want to be What did I like about this book Well, just about everything It is 100 percent absorbing It has the required good characters, plot, and pacing The characters have depth and they re relatable And is it really me talking when I say her descriptions are fantastic If you know me, you probably know that scenery is often a hot item on my Complaint Board I never ever require scenery I ve had my fill of raindrops on a maple leaf, thank you very much But Maggie seduces me with how she uses her pen as a paintbrush With just a few quick, and what seem to be effortless, strokes, she sits her characters down into a space that s so vivid it makes my head happy There I visualize the London settings perfectly, and I didn t even have to jump through head hoops to see it But take all of the list of good qualities and add an item to the top, and that s the beauteous language, which mesmerized me because of its art but also because it stirred me up and made me feel for her characters THAT S what keeps me gushing.Two stories take turns One is about Lexie, who escapes a boring rural life and finds herself in the Bohemian scene of 1950s London She falls in love, and I think it s that rich relationship I ll remember the most about this book The other story takes place 50 years later It s about a new mother Elina, who lives with her boyfriend, Ted both are angsty, but for different reasons The book is about love both romantic and maternal and the intricacies of relationships And it s about grief, jealousy, and memory It s a long time before you see how the two stories are related, but when the connection is revealed, it s a humdinger Oh so cool and satisfying It s always fun when you can relate to the stories, and I could relate to both When I was 18, I semi dramatically left suburban New Jersey for the big city of Boston I didn t exactly fall into the Bohemian life like Lexie did, I was like a hippie with waitressing jobs , but like her I became counter culture and never looked back And Elina s story of motherhood reminded me of my days as a new mother, all the pushes and pulls, the doubts and fatigue, the love you just can t make sense of Don t worry though you ll love this book even if you ve never been a mom I have to add two other good things to the list I like how Maggie foreshadows I think some people get annoyed when they learn early on that something dramatic is going to happen, like why did you have to go and ruin the surprise But I usually see it as artful it adds suspense because you don t yet know how it s all going to go down In this book, I loved the foreshadow, the tease, and I thought I had it figured out but no way The other good thing is that O Farrell makes amazing, seamless transitions No matter how often she switched scenes, I was not confused, and I was happy to be where I landed.Whenever I start one of O Farrell s books, right off the bat I m pulled in I rub my hands together in excitement as I enter her imaginary world Check out this paragraph, which is a few pages in from the beginningThe garden waits The trees wait The seagull, balancing in the sky above the washing, waits And then, just as if this is a stage set and there is an audience, watching from a hushed dark, there are voices Noises off Somebody screams, another person shouts, something heavy hits the floor The back door of the house is wrenched open I can t bear it I tell you, I can t the someone shrieks The back door is slammed, resoundingly, and a person appears I see that all I can do is gush, so I might as well stop You ve heard one gush, you ve heard them all But I can t help myself let me just end by saying I think Maggie O Farrell is the perfect storyteller She is pure story she is never preachy, she doesn t take you on unnecessary side trips, she doesn t go all philosophical, and her endings are satisfying One of my favorite authors, hands down P.S This book is my third favorite book by O Farrell It s only topped by The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and her memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am Seventeen Brushes with Death both books made my all time favorites list Try all three, please Any fiction novel which follows the five or six literary fiction novels I have just finished may well have big shoes to fill but The Hand That First Held Mine held it s own I do so love it when an author combines combines real people into their story After reading this novel, I half expect if I pore over the photographs by John Deakin I shall find images of Lexie and Innes And likewise, if I go to Soho, I shall find on Bayton Street the faded chalk writing of the word elsewhere in front of the building where Innes magazine was housed Indeed, the line between fact and fiction is blurred even when you realise that one of Deakin s photographs is used for the cover of the book I actually spent the whole of the novel wondering if it was really Lexie pictured there as the caption is simply Girl in Cafe Also featured from 1960s Soho is the famed Colony Room owned by Muriel Belcher, an autocratic and temperamental woman who also appears in the story Such is the gift of Maggie O Farrell she has an incredible talent of weaving fact with fiction she makes the whole story very personable She did so in The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox unmanageable daughters were indeed sent into convents homes and simply disappeared from families in the early 1900s And she does so in The Hand That First Held Mine.This novel opens in Devon, mid 1950s, with a chance meeting between Lexie and a Londoner called Innes Forward a few months and Lexie has traveled to London, reconnected with Innes, the proprietor of the magazineelsewhere , become his fledgling reporter and his lover It s the bohemian art scene and under Innes tutelage, Lexie soon carves out a niche for herself as an art critic Forward some 50 years and young couple Ted and Elina are new parents While Elina struggles with first time motherhood, it s Ted s whose life is really wavering The strange almost trance like moments he had as a child have returned He s subject to odd memories that appear to have nothing to do with his early life as he knows it and they start to occur fairly frequently.Of course, the two narratives are very differently paced 1950s Soho is a vibrant, burgeoning fast paced scene while Elina s days of new motherhood are hazy, sleep deprived and slow In O Farrell s usual manner, the story is very well researched Soho in the 1950s comes alive for the reader as does new parentage in the new millennium for those not yet initiated into that role The beauty of The Hand That First Held Mine is it s most unexpected twist Most will presume, as I did, how the past will connect with the present but the author has a couple of wild cards up her sleeve The story is quintessential O Farrell her prose evocative and resonant and I find it hard to fault I found the portrait of Soho, the magazine world and the art scene truly fascinating and O Farrell does acknowledge the book Soho in the Fifties and Sixties by Jonathan Fryer as one of her references Definitely 4 here. This book left me breathless, gulping, and sobbing Maggie O Farrell is a master of story, structure, and my god, transitions But that is stuff writers swoon over For readers there is a great story of family connections that transcend known facts It s about the truths we intuit and how they can nag, direct, and torture us until we bring them into consciousness and the now A wonderful book By the way, the Kindle edition also has a wonderful short story called The House I Live In an appropriate addition to this novel. 5 I am, I am, I am in love with Maggie O Farrell s writing She captivates then mesmerizes me completely Currently I am basking in the afterglow of this tale of two extraordinary women living years apart, their lives eventually connecting, though they will never meet My hand was resting over my heart when I finished and I was a bit emotional, yes I was, and now I can t wait to read everything she s written.I made use of both the eBook and audio from Overdrive and discovered just how much my mind wanders when I m listening instead of reading I would go back and read after getting distracted or nodding off, honestly believing I hadn t missed much W.R.O.N.G.The audio was great, but my brain is just too distracted to do justice to a work if I use that format Her words are never wasted and they are put to such exquisite purpose you can t afford to miss out. A Gorgeously Written Story Of Love And Motherhood, This Is A Tour De Force From One Of Our Best Loved Novelists 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 S 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 5 Earth Shattering Stars A brilliant portrayal of motherhood and a mother s love that is transcendent Maggie O Farrell captures so much the exhaustion, the anxieties, the joys, the overall magnitude of what a mother is It s a special thing you have with him It s like he has this internal timer that measures how long he hasn t seen you and without warning it can just go off and nothing else will mollify him This book tugged at my heart and left me aching for Maggie O Farrell is a superb writer she seamlessly transitions between two time periods Often, when writers flit between the past and the present, I find myself liking one time period than the other Not in this book I loved both equally.This book had me on pins and needles even though there was a foreshadowing, I could barely breathe waiting for the moment the moment of truth.An exquisite book that I highly recommend Thanks to Betsy , Cheri and Angela, whose reviews made me move this up my TBR This book is so hard to quantify with stars, because although I hated it for the majority, I have to admit that there were definite moments of genius I can recognize what she was attempting here there s a slow, poetic, visual quality to the writing that sometimes succeeds I can appreciate this type of novel huge Michael Cunningham fan here when it s done with substantial emotion and poignancy and when the words are stunning enough in themselves to negate the absolute need for a concrete plot But, I never felt swept up in this book To be honest, I was quite bored for most of it.The story follows two eras 1950 s bohemian London, and present day London Alexandra is a country girl She s recently been expelled from University for insubordination, and yearns to live a larger, freer life When Innes Kent blows in to her small town with eccentric clothes and a shiny car, she decides to move to London There, she changes her name to Lexie on his recommendation, and starts a whole new adventurous way of life I actually really loved her transition to capable, confident woman She strictly follows her own code, even when it s socially improper Meanwhile, in present day London, Elina and Ted are going through all the stress and insanity that comes with the birth of a first child Elina, then Ted each go through strange memory lapses Ted starts to recover memories that he has repressed since childhood.The present day story line is just so much less exciting than the 1950 s story line and actually, that s not all that exciting either The hard thing is, I can see exactly what she s trying to say She conveys, quite accurately, the crazy, drained, sleep deprived state that takes hold after the birth of a baby I actually felt trapped, frustrated, and angry while reading those parts which was utterly horrible, but maybe that s what she was going for Ted and Elina tip toe around each other, evading every question, insisting constantly that they are fine, even while they both are falling apart I wanted to strangle both of them throughout There s a part of the 1950 s story where Lexie nearly hits another character and says, are you being willfully obtuse That s exactly what I wanted to say to Ted and Elina I really wanted to shake Elina in the beginning, when she stubbornly refuses all help and insists on caring for her newborn son alone, the day after she s almost died, and even as she s passing out three or four times in a day.The writing itself is just too drawn out sometimes I felt like there was a ton of unnecessary filler I would find myself tuning out for large swaths Here s an example He finds himself looking forward to a time when he and this child can walk together and discuss the visual effect of early morning sun on dew, the astonishing number of people out jogging and dog walking at this ungodly hour, the way you can already see that the day is already going to be a hot one.I guess, taken all alone this passage really doesn t seem too bad But, for an author whose main focus seems to be words and lyricism, this feels very bland It s almost like the literary equivalent of stock footage Like, what does everyone picture when going to a park Insert words here An entire book filled with this kind of mild, tasteless wording really ended up bleaching most of the feeling that I could have experienced from the story itself The plot suffers from far too much foreshadowing She states at least twice, and early in the book, that one of the characters is not going to make it When the inevitable occurred, there was absolutely no shock or emotional punch for me The twist was insinuated at so blatantly that the last third of the book seemed like a foregone conclusion I felt like there was no need for me to even finish reading.I can definitely see that Maggie O Farrell is a talented writer There s a strong possibility that I may give one of her other novels a chance before throwing in the towel I can see what she was going for here, but I don t think that it was quite achieved. Although choosing a favourite author is tough, when forced to do so I would often than not, answer with Maggie O Farrell as mine I find her style of writing beautiful, almost melodic and so incredibley descriptive and evocative of the senses that you really feel like you step into the world of the characters whilst reading.However, this was based on her first three books, and I have to say that despite being SO excited for the release of The Vanishing Act of Esme May only book I ve ever pre ordered I wasn t as enthralled as I d hoped In fact I was quite disappointed afterwards Now with the release of The Hand That First Held Mine it feels like Maggie O Farrell has conciously changed paths as an author, now prefering to write historical fiction based in past worlds and decades I totally respect her decision to do this but personally, I feel she has lost the edge and suspense and pase her previous books had.The Hand That First Held Mine follows two seperate stories of female characters living in London in different decades fifty years apart told side by side Lexi is a frustrated country girl of the 1950s, who gives up her family and home to escape to the bright lights of London and in it finds love, a career and what it is to lose them In the modern day, Elina is a Finnish girl living in London with her boyfriend Ted The complicated arrival of their baby stirs lost feelings and memories in both of them, and pushes their relationship to breaking point as they both scramble to do the best for their newborn son Although both stories play out seperately small clues and tiny blink and you ll miss them hints sewn into each story slowly reveal that perhaps there is intertwining them than first meets the eyeAs I said, Maggie O Farrell writes poetically and this book is no different The book is also incredibly realistic and well researched from the descriptions of bustling Soho to the uncomfortable rawness of how parenthood can be intensely wonderful but also twist and challenge lives and relationships The book taps into an obsession of mine which is thinking about what buildings were in previous incarnations before my lifetime in London, and what they would have looked like and everything that happened in them and on the roads outside I love thinking about who walked down the same streets as me and what they were doing and wearing and thinking Maggie O Farrell writes this into the book beautifully However the reason this isn t a 5 review is just that I felt the storylines were slightly predictable and clumsy in parts Shock occurances leap from nowhere in places and then nothing happens for chapter after chapter In particular I felt Elinas storyline very repetative and sluggish, compared to Lexis vibrant almost too drama packed life I m sure this juxtaposition was intended but I felt it really jarred sometimes and I d be tempted to flick past Elinas sections to get back to the 1950s I would definitely recommend this book for reading, as it s another high quality book from an extremely talented author, but I would also say if you ve never read a Maggie O Farrell novel that it d be better to start with The Distance Between or My Lovers Lover which I consider up there in my favourite ever books.