Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Hand That First Held Mine

I loved The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, so I was quite excited to hear about Maggie O'Farrell's newest book, The Hand That First Held Mine. In both of these two books I feel like O'Farrell does a great job of developing characters while still having a great plot. The book flap hints at a mystery that will be unfolded, but the main focus is on the characters. Even once the mystery is revealed, it's more about how it impacts the characters than the mystery itself.
In The Hand That First Held Mine, the story goes back and forth between Lexie's story in the 1950s and Elina and Ted's story in modern day London. Inevitably, the stories end up colliding, but she crafts both of them beautifully separately. What fascinated me most was how Lexie was so independent and free and much of her story focused on her dating and her career, while Elina is trapped at home with a baby. It turned the stereotype of the 50s on its head, and I enjoyed that. Elina also reinforced my desire to not have kids, although I don't think that was O'Farrell's point. She describes the never ending cycle of cleaning, laundry, and feeding in vivid detail though, not shying away from stories about exploding baby poop that somehow ends up all over the walls. I know from some of my friends with kids that this actually happens.
There is a lot of build up before we even know there is a mystery to unravel, but O'Farrell's storytelling is enrapturing even when she's describing everyday life. Or maybe that's why she is enrapturing, because she captures everyday life so well. I could clearly picture the characters and rooted for some and hated others, so by the end I really cared how they would react to everything they've learned.
O'Farrell has a few earlier books as well, and I can't wait to read those too.

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