Book Review: The Hand That First Held Mine

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Our ModernMom Book Club is a way for our readers to express their thoughts and ideas on things they’ve read, sharing their insights with our community of moms. Join the conversation, and tell us what you thought about this book in the comment section below! 

If you love sharing books with girlfriends as much as I do, you’ll understand why I asked my friend Anne Marie Corrigan, to write this review. For me, this was one of those books that grabbed me right from the very first word and didn’t let go. I was devastated when it was over and I vow to read it many more times. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece. I raved about the book to my friend and fellow writer, Anne Marie, and wanted to hear her opinion about the book. Here it is:

I love a book that draws me in from the beginning. Maggie O? Farrell?s The Hand That First Held Mine does just that with the lines: “Listen. The trees in this story are stirring, trembling, readjusting themselves.”

Now, I don’t normally trust an author from the outset. In between the daily tick-tock of running the family home, I feel every second has been carved out for grocery shopping, cooking, homework, ballet, piano, soccer, wiping noses, cleaning scabby knees, so I need to be convincingly wooed if I’m going to give my precious time and emotion to a story. But I was hooked by O’Farrell from the beginning.

This is a multi-faceted tale that skillfully interweaves two sections of time. One begins in an English country garden “between the border of Devon and Cornwall” sometime in the 1950’s and from there follows the life of the fiercely independent and unique Lexie as she ?ees her claustrophobic family life for London. I quickly became deeply invested in this woman’s life and felt the highs and lows of her loves lost and won.

Lexie is a writer and after becoming a mother writes a particularly moving piece called The Women We Become After Children. I would buy O? Farrell’s book on the strength of Lexie’s moving and insightful piece of writing alone which contains the jewel “our hearts begin to live outside of our bodies.” They do, don’t they?

The second slice of time takes place in modern London and involves a young couple Ted and Elina. We encounter this pair on the fragile ?rst step of becoming parents.

Many scenes reminded me of those scary ?rst few weeks when my ?rst child was born. Especially the grappling to ?nd that misplaced sense of self when you ?rst become wholly responsible for another human being.

“She cannot fathom, cannot grasp what happened to that person, that Elina of the charcoal lists, the ant sketches, the natural births, the buckets of cool water in the shade. How did she become this – a woman in stained pajamas, standing weeping at a window, a woman frequently possessed by an urge to run through the streets, shouting,will somebody please help me, please?”

The theme of forgetting and remembering is constant in the book especially in relation to new father Ted who is often paralyzed by ?ashbacks: “… and he realises that he is having one of the visual disturbances he used to suffer from as a child. A ?bizzy? his mother used to call them.”

Deliberate foreshadowing earlier in the book ramps up tension as the two stories move closer together until finally the gossamer curtain of Ted’s memory draws back to reveal a disturbing truth behind those “visual disturbances.”

This is a great read. The only gripe I have with the book is how the fabulous, strong and amazing Lexie ended up having such a long affair with the insipid, cuckold Felix. Even his son calls him a “randy old goat.” Although who can say that they haven’t hitched their wagon to an unsavory, implausible man or two along the crooked road of life?

What crazy men have you chosen in your life? How have they changed you and/or your life journey?

Next Month’s Book: Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life

Anne Marie Corrigan has worked as a writer, editor and managing editor in both Ireland and Canada.  She is currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she lives with her husband and two children. She teaches writing at The Momoir Project, an online memoir writing program for moms.

Cori Howard is the editor of Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth about Motherhood, an anthology of personal essays on the transformative process of becoming mothers. In her book, you can read honest and emotional accounts of how having children has affected our marriages, our careers, our friendships, our identities and our deepest selves. She’s also the founder of The Momoir Project, an online writing centre. The Momoir Project connects mothers from around the world and teaches them how to write their own stories – before they forget. Many of her students have said it’s better – and cheaper – than therapy. Check out the Momoir community blog, written by Cori and her students, about the day-to-day struggles of modern motherhood.

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