"The hand that first held mine" by Maggie O'Farrell
We chose this for our first bookclub meeting. A desire had been expressed to read some of the prizes this year. This won the Costa Novel Award for 2010 (the Costas used to be known as the Whitbreads).You can read more about them here (www.costabookawards.com). It is Maggie O'Farrell's fifth novel and it is the first of hers that I have read.
By and large it was a delightful introduction to O'Farrell's work. Of late, I feel I have been reading many worthy books and while I enjoy being stretched outside my comfort zone, I do enjoy reading a book for pleasure too, not just duty. This book was not a duty to read at all. I knocked it off in a couple of days.
There are two interweaving stories - one set in the late 50s/60s and one set in contemporary times. The reader knows (from reading the blurb on the inside front flap) that inevitably the two stories are linked and part of the compelling nature of the book is to discover the link between the two.
The characters are reasonably complex and engaging. The post-war story captures the essence of the era and has a touch of "Mad Men" about it. The contemporary story is about a young couple struggling with the demands of a newborn, complicated by the near-death experience of the mother at birth. This event triggers deep buried emotions in her husband which manifest as panic attacks and are at the heart of the stories' connection.
"The hand that first held mine" appealed to me because I like books about writers and writing and how having children changes us as individuals and partners. On a grander scale, it is a novel about love and loss and how those experiences carve us out and define us.
If there was a bit that disappointed me, it was probably pages 181-188. It would be a plot spoiler if I revealed their content so I won't, but I just thought the quality of the writing deteriorated at this point. It's hard to define exactly what I disliked about it, but let's just say I found it too sentimental. Lest I be accused of being a cold fish, I also loved the writing on page 315 which would also be a plot revealer if I quoted it. It could also be described as being too sentimental. So there you go ...go figure, as they say.
Read it and tell me what you think.