I just finished reading The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell. I have to tell someone about this book!
But before I go on, I must add a disclaimer: This is only the second book I’ve read since theBABY was born 19 months ago, so this glowing review may be the result of my “I-finally-had-a-chance-to-satisfy-my-love-of-reading” ecstasy.
At the moment, however, I’m convinced this is the best book I’ve ever read. Even surpassing The Secret Garden, which has held the “favorite book” position for the last 15+ years.
A (very) brief overview of the book
Maggie O’Farrell tells the story of two women’s lives a generation apart, both dealing with motherhood for the first time and trying to balance this new role with their passion for their work. For more details on the storyline, skip on down to the bottom of this post.
What I love about the book
My favorite thing about the book is the way O’Farrell brilliantly illustrates how quickly a woman’s life can be lost in history when the people left behind do nothing to help her memory live on.
Why I can’t stop thinking about the book
Call me a sentimental silly pants, but it reminded me of what I loved so much about our humble house (that we’re quickly outgrowing as baby #2 gets closer and closer) when we bought it seven years ago. We purchased the home shortly after the original owner passed away. Her son sold the home with many of her belongings still in it. Going through her things, I could tell she loved the home she and her husband had built for their family back in 1950.
When I found the box of handmade snowflake ornaments she had made, I realized I was living in her house. Making our family memories in the home she had built for hers. I decided a little piece of my home’s original owner should live on each December, so each year I’ve placed one of her handmade snowflake ornaments on our Christmas tree. I always felt a little silly doing it, but now I’m so glad I do.
The Hand That First Held Mine got me thinking about the hours I’ve spent washing the same kitchen floor that the first matriarch of this house probably picked out and washed hundreds of times herself. I’ve never thought about the way she washed the floors or how often she did it until I read O’Farrell’s novel. Now I also find myself wondering where she sat to put her feet up at the end of a long day, where she drank her morning coffee and where her Christmas tree sat each December.
It’s crazy to think that one day down the road a total stranger will live in the very same space I do today. Although the scenery may change, the spaces will remain…the spot where I’ve spent so many hours rocking theBABY, the place where the couch is worn because I land there each evening, the place I close my eyes to soak up the sun on the patio theBOY put in shortly after we moved here.
It’s even crazier to think that stranger will never know about the memories created in this home.
“….You are a mist that appears for a little while then vanishes.” James 4:14
For those who want to know more about the book and less about my life reflections as a result of reading it…
A summary from the publisher:
In the thrilling, underground world of bohemian post-war London, Lexie Sinclair is making an extraordinary life for herself. Taken up by magazine editor Innes Kent, she learns to be a reporter, to know art and artists, to embrace her life fully and with a deep love at the center of it.
Later, in present-day London, a young painter named Elina dizzily navigates the first weeks of motherhood. Her boyfriend, Ted, traumatized by nearly losing her in labor, begins to recover lost memories. He cannot place them. But as they become more disconcerting and happen more frequently, we discover that something connects these two stories– these two women– something that becomes all the more heartbreaking and beautiful as they all hurdle toward its revelation.
A stunning portrait of motherhood and the artist’s life in all their terror and glory, Maggie O’Farrell’s newest novel is a gorgeous inquiry into the ways we make and unmake our lives, who we know ourselves to be, and how even our most accidental legacies connect us.