The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
On a summer afternoon in mid-1950s rural England on the border between Devon and Cornwall, journalist Innes Kent, already 34, happens upon angry Alexandra Sinclair, not yet 22. During their brief exchange in her parents’ yard after he hits car trouble, he manages to inadvertently lure her to London. Theirs will be a consuming, albeit tragic affair, with Lexie – as Innes renames her – surviving her lover, only to be usurped by the woman who is (and is not) Innes’ daughter.
Fast forward to present-day London: Elina and Ted have just had their first child, a son whose complicated birth was nearly fatal to Elina. As Elina slowly recovers, Ted begins to deteriorate, plagued by black-out like episodes he hasn’t suffered since his childhood. Ironically, even as he mind detaches with growing frequency, he begins to recall memories he cannot understand, that he cannot even be certain belong to his own past.
The delight in this novel, of course, is to find out how these two seemingly disparate narratives will come together. If you choose to go audible, a word of initial caution: narrator Anne Flosnik’s recitation begins a bit heavily, her intonation too grave especially when voicing Lexie’s chapters. You may want to switch to the page (that’s what libraries are for!); but if you decide to stay aurally committed, Flosnik’s narration does improve.
As the stories begin to converge, you’ll notice the slightest hints (places, names, but no real spoilers here) happen with a growing frequency that will make you want to read faster and faster as you guess at what could have been, what might be, and what will happen next. This is one of those delicious novels in which you will always know more than the characters, yet with characters so real that you can only fervently wish you could share your greater knowledge with each of them – in the name of revenge and redemption, both.