Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Hand That First Held Mine, by Maggie O'Farrell

In a recent post I described new parenthood as interesting only to the parents themselves. How wrong I was! This author describes new motherhood in minute detail, and it is absolutely fascinating. This may be because these scenes are interspersed with so many other slivers of life. To me, the difficult thing about having an infant, aside from the utter lack of sleep, is that it is so unrelenting in its repetition. Change, feed, pat, rock, feed, change, rock... Maggie O'Farrell manages to pull out specific moments, while conveying the overwhelming whole.

Elina can't quite remember how her baby got from inside her to next to her; a traumatic birth has left her with a sense of unreality that will be familiar to anyone suffering sleep deprivation, but even more so. As she tries to navigate her new situation she is careful not to alarm her boyfriend, Ted. He, in turn, is hiding the confusion and apprehension he is feeling as a result of a deluge of near-memories of his childhood.

Their story is told in parallel with that of Lexie, a vivid character from an earlier generation. The two stories are seemingly unrelated, but of course a connection eventually reveals itself.

I loved this book from the opening. I don't remember hearing anything about it, I just found it while browsing at the library. Which reminds me of how enjoyable it is to read a book with no preconceptions. It seems especially appropriate in this case, as the characters move in seemingly random loops and arcs.

There is one oddly unreal character wandering the halls of this book. He stands in stark contrast to the others, who are so carefully drawn. A connector, rather than a person. This flaw did not, however, dull my enjoyment of this book. I really had a hard time putting it down, and was riveted right up to the end. The author uses lots of color and visual detail, which stuck in my mind long after I finished reading. AN author I'll definitely revisit.

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