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The Hand That First Held Mine

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  14,439 ratings  ·  1,538 reviews
A gorgeously written story of love and motherhood, this is a tour de force from one of our most acclaimed and best loved novelists.

When the bohemian, sophisticated Innes Kent turns up by chance 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 n
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published 2010 by Headline (first published April 12th 2009)
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Angela M
Feb 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Edited to make correction. Originally read Aug, 25, 2014.

I loved this novel mostly because of the writing. Yes, I loved the story and the characters too, but from the exquisite opening paragraph it was all about the writing.

“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.”

Something amazing doe
”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
4.7, rounded up because I just had to

This 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 t
B the BookAddict
Apr 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: highly recommended
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: Sharon, Elaine,
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 th
Jun 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Cathrine ☯️
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 m
Betsy Robinson
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 appropri
Jun 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5 Earth Shattering Stars!!

A brilliant portrayal of motherhood and a mother’s love that is transcendent. Maggie O’Farrell captures so much more- 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 more. Maggie O’Farrell is
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 pl ...more
Dec 30, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jan-2011
Although choosing a favourite author is tough, when forced to do so I would more 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
Sep 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘The Hand That First Held Mine’ (2010) is Maggie O’Farrell’s poetic, extremely moving and very human story of memory, motherhood and emotions.

O’Farrell tells us the stories of two couples – Lexie and Innes, in the 1950s and Ted and Elina in the present day – both with a London setting and both stories linked. ‘First Held Mine’ is a novel which is very up close and personal and unflinchingly so. It’s a story ostensibly about relationships; family and memory (distorted or otherwise) providing a h
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, library
Maggie O’Farrell is so good! Her characters are so well written and i was immediately drawn into their lives. This book has two timelines. The first starts in the 1950’s, a young woman moves to London and we follow her life and loves. The second is modern day, a couple with a newborn return home after a traumatic birth. It’s not clear initially how the stories will interconnect, and wanting to know made it hard to put this book down.
She writes about motherhood and parenting beautifully, especia
Feb 01, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having recently read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and loved it, I was eager to read another book by Maggie O'Farrell and the blurb of The hand that first held mine had me intrigued.

Fresh out of university and in disgrace, Lexie Sinclair is waiting for life to begin when the sophisticated Innes Kent turns up on her doorstep in rural Devon. In the present Ted and Elina no longer recognise their lives after the arrival of their first child. Elina an artist wonders if she will ever paint again w
May 05, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, fiction
The plot was interesting, but it moved too slowly for me. More than 100 pages in, and it was still not clear how the two different story lines were related.

The author also spends a lot of time on the descriptions of the characters' surroundings, which I found annoying. They were too long, often unnecessary, and they kept the story from progressing. (Do I really need to know every time the baby arches his back to look up at the ceiling? That there was pannini bread on the floor of the coffee sho
O’Farrell’s novel could easily have turned out as a mawkish romance, but is exquisite instead. This is ‘serious literary fiction,’ and won a Costa Best Novel award to prove it. The descriptive language is elegant and precise, with just the right number of words and images to create a mental picture of a lawn in Devon with laundry flapping on a line, or the cracked tiles of the entryway of a London row house. Most of the book is in the present tense, which lends it immediacy and reality. Moreover ...more
Jan 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
“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. The garden is empty; the patio deserted, save for some pots with geraniums and delphiniums shuddering in the wind. A bench stands on the lawn, two chairs politely facing away from it. A bicycle is propped up against the house but its pedals are s ...more
4.5 stars. This author doesn't disappoint! She knows how to concisely convey her characters' feelings and motivations to the reader. For example, young motherhood and a colicky baby - she communicates this perfectly, making me (once again) glad I'm menopausal. Oh, how she brought everything back! Very hard to function on little sleep. But I digress.

There are two story lines in this novel. One is present day, one is historical, and eventually they intertwine. Yes, even though you think they neve
Mar 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel was a mixed bag for me. At time, the writing is rather wonderful, indeed it would be worth the read to study and enjoy the first chapter alone, because therein lies the writer Maggie O’Farrell at her best. The scene in Soho is masterful, and again I would say worth picking up just to read this section. Unfortunately, the writing style becomes tiresome the further into the narrative you go, perhaps because the characters never quite live up to what the reader might have expected of the ...more
May 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british
The prose in this book was so smooth. I sat and read for hours and it felt like minutes. I had no idea where this book was going, but I knew I wanted to be there. How in the world were these two women connected? I really couldn't imagine it. When everything finally came together, it was a great moment. This book was worth getting two less hours of sleep than usual.

O'Farrell does a flawless job describing how it feels to be a first time mother, being in love with your tiny baby but having your h
Jan 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Finally, after wandering in the desert of bad fiction, a book that both would not let me put it down (I read it in one breathless heartpounding 3 am night), and that left me in tears, because I deeply cared about the main characters -- both or all of them. A gorgeous many layered never sugar-coated meditation on motherhood with the pacing and surprises of a good thriller. Only not a five because I thought the villainesses were a bit too flatly wholly evil to be as real as the complex flawed hero ...more
Mar 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Hand That First Held Mine is Maggie O’Farrell’s fifth novel. Two stories are told in parallel: Lexie Sinclair quits Devon for London when the charismatic Innes Kent arrives on her doorstep, and starts her life at the heart of the 1950s Soho art scene; Elina and Ted are coming to terms with the changes wrought in their present-day lives by the birth of their son. As we follow lives separated by fifty years, wondering how they might be connected, we learn that Ted has been having flashes of me ...more
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two parallel stories: Lexie in the 60s and Elina in the present day. We see Lexie from the time she rebels against her country upbringing and heads to London to forge a career, fall in love (more than once) and meet the challenges of being a single mother. We see Elina (an artist from Finland, living with Ted in London) only after she has had her first child. It did not take me too long to guess the connections between the two stories but this did not detract from the novel's enjoyment.

Maggie O
Menna van Praag
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I adore everything O'Farrell writes. This, in my humble opinion, is one of her finest.
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, fiction
Maggie O'Farrell's books are filled with people and experiences I find immediately relatable. Her description of Elina and Ted's new parenthood: that fuzzy, sleep-deprived state you find yourself in as a parent of a newborn were depicted perfectly. I loved the descriptions of the new strains in their relationship and their unspeakable love for their baby son. The book is really two separate stories, which only intertwine at the end of the book, but lots of hints are dropped along the way. I enjo ...more
Apr 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A young yet successful artist immigrates to England from Finland, falls in love and has a baby with her English landlord. It's a difficult birth and both Elin and Ted are reeling from its aftermath. Elin feels alone and confused by Ted's isolating behavior. Ted is just as lost by his behavior. Seeing Elin almost bleed out after her C-section has triggered fear and old remembrances that he can't quite hold onto keep coming unburied yet he can't seem to hold onto the connections so he plunges even ...more
Doreen Fritz
Sep 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rb-book-club
Another of the books told in alternating chapters about two different time periods, and we gradually learn how the two stories converge. I was put off at first by that style, since I've read so many of them recently, but very quickly the story and the characters grabbed me. Of the two stories, the one I found more engaging was the story of Lexie, who in the early 1950's left her rural Devon home and large family for London after meeting an exciting, exotic flirt Innes Kent whose car broke down n ...more
Hannah Wingfield
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
After You’d Gone was so good that it left me reeling, and even asking the librarian as I returned it “have you read this? You must read it. It’s the best book I’ve read all year”. I thought it was something special, and when I first started reading The Hand That… I even left comments on my post about After You’d Gone saying that nothing could top it. I take it all back – this was even better! So good in fact that in re-reading this post before publication I know I sound like a gibbering wreck, u ...more
Robert Blumenthal
I've become a huge fan of Maggie O'Farrell, having read several of her novels. This one is from about 10 years ago, and although it took me a bit to get into it, it became a wonderfully satisfying read. It revolves around two women, Lexie starting in 1955 and Elina in present day London. Lexie comes to London from Kent I believe it was and settles in with the charming, bohemian Innes. She gets a job at Innes's magazine of literary criticism and becomes very adept at it. She has a child named The ...more
Aug 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
An astonishing surprise. I picked up this book on a whim, but it quickly drew me in. The story of two women, their men, and their children, whose lives are connected--mysteriously at first, then gradually more clearly. The author's skill at characterization is admirable alone, but added to that is the expert plotting and pacing. Lexie and her spirit and her era are particularly evocative. All in all, these characters will stay with me for a long time.
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm rounding up because I love her writing voice, but probably only 3.5 stars. I finished a couple days ago and I loved every second I was reading, but honestly, I'm baffled at how to possibly describe what it's about. I can describe some themes - motherhood, womanhood, self-determination - but that doesn't give much idea of plot. BUt this isn't a book you read for a "story" - there are stories which are connected but they didn't drive the book forward. This is a book I read simply because I lik ...more
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Maggie O'Farrell (born 1972, Coleraine Northern Ireland) is a British author of contemporary fiction, who features in Waterstones' 25 Authors for the Future. It is possible to identify several common themes in her novels - the relationship between sisters is one, another is loss and the psychological impact of those losses on the lives of her characters.

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“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.” 15 likes
“You young people are always so obsessed with truth. The truth is often overrated.” 13 likes
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