Maggie O’Farrell’s The Hand That First Held Mine. I didn’t know anything about this author when the book was chosen by one of the book clubs to which I belong. O’Farrell was born in Northern Ireland and grew up in Wales and Scotland. She has written four previous novels.
The Hand That First Held Mine is two stories told in alternating chapters. Lexie Sinclair is a rebellious young woman growing up in Britain in the post-war years who, tired of her stifling family life at home, runs away to London. In present-day London, Elina and Ted have their first child. Both of them go through crises in the weeks and months following the birth.
Elina has had a traumatic time post-birth. Ted and she seem disconnected from the world and each other:
He stares at the postcard, the red line that bisects the blue triangle, that towers over the black shape crouched in the corner. He’d seen the painting as it emerged on the canvas. He wasn’t supposed to have seen it — she didn’t like anyone to see her work before she deemed it finished — but he’d peered through the window of her studio when he’d known she wasn’t looking. It was his way of keeping up with what went on inside her head. He’d seen it hang on the wall of her gallery, he’d watched the red dot go up beside it at the private view and the glow on her face as she saw this. And now it hung in the house of a music producer and Ted often wondered if the man loved it as much as he should, if it was hung in the right way, in the right light.
Four days ago, she’d almost died.
The thought has a physical effect on him. One of disorientation and nausea, like seasickness or looking down from a high building. He has to lean his head in his hands and breathe deeply, and he feels the earlier tears crowding into his throat.
Lexie also has a baby, though she has an easier time of it. And the father is less involved:
He laid the flowers on the bed, on top of Lexie’s feet. He said, “A boy. How marvellous. How are you?’
Lexie said, ‘We’re fine.’
She saw him smile, lean towards her. ‘Congratulations, sweetie, very well done,’ he said and kissed her cheek. Then he sank into a chair. ‘Although I’m a tiny bit cross,’ he said, ‘that you didn’t call me straight away. You poor darling, coming in here on your own. Very naughty of you.’ He treated her to one of his deep, intimate smiles. ‘I sent a telegram to my mother. She’ll be delighted. She’ll be looking out the family christening robe as we speak.’
You would probably guess that something will tie the two parts together. It isn’t clear until well into the two stories how they will be related and the connection is foggier because of a plot development in the present-day story that in the end goes nowhere. But the stories are compelling. As with other novels having this structure, I get a little annoyed every time I’m abruptly taken away from Lexie’s world and plunged back into that of Elina and Ted; then I get caught up in the present-day world and annoyed when the chapter ends and I’m back in 1950s Soho. But the annoyance is only momentary until I am once more absorbed. So I plan to look for more novels by this author.
Listened to “Fire & Finesse”: A Royal Concert — Cantatas & Chamber Music from the Time of the Sun King. Violinist Marc Destrubé, harpsichordist Jacques Ogg, and gambist Natalie Mackie were joined by soprano Catherine Webster.
Instead of a photo of the performers, I am posting this detail from a painting by Jean Garnier — “Portrait of Louis XIV surrounded by musical instruments, flowers and fruit” (1672), as I think it embodies the rich, stately, feel of the period that was in turn captured by this concert. This was another in the series of joyful, intimate concerts at the Kay Meek Centre presented by Early Music Vancouver.
Rhubarb tarts and butter tarts made by a friend. They have the perfect ratio of filling to pastry. The filling is not too sweet. These are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea at any time of day.