‘The hand that first held mine’

After reading The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and The Distance Between Us I have been desperate to read another Maggie O’Farrell book…and I definitely wasn’t disappointed in The hand that first held mine!

Feeling claustrophobic in the countryside…Lexie Sinclair escapes to London after meeting the suave, mysterious Innes Kent…a magazine editor who (reluctantly at first…) introduces her to the bohemian world of post-war Soho. She becomes incredibly independent, learns to be a reporter and learns a lot about art. Suddenly, she finds herself pregnant and decides to have the baby on her own…

Running parallel to the Lexie storyline is the story of a young painter called Elina who is nervously shuffling through the first few weeks of motherhood, while her boyfriend Ted keeps having flashbacks to memories that he cannot understand. As the stories develop, jumping back and forth in true O’Farrell style…a connection between the three characters is revealed, making this yet another wonderful book by the author.

This is a truly gorgeous book! I loved the descriptions of Soho, the tender, heart-breaking narratives, the characters…I found myself simultaneously inspired by Lexie’s character and by O’Farrell herself! Lexie for her independence, courage and stubbornness…and O’Farrell for writing yet another fantastic book, which has made me believe that I may be a published writer one day…as long as I’m persistent and passionate about it.

A wonderful book – read it! You won’t be disappointed!

 

‘The Distance Between Us’

After reading ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’, I found myself fascinated by the beautiful complexity of Maggie O’Farrell’s writing and very eager to read more! So I bought ‘The Distance Between Us” and definitely wasn’t disappointed.

Whereas some readers do not like it when the plot jumps around between narratives, I love it! Each individual thread of the plot weaves carefully in and out of the storyline and instead of leaving you annoyed that it’s changing again, it completely draws you in and simply builds up and up (in this case, like a small tornado gathering more and more evidence until finally you have all the facts and are left desperate to find out what happens)

It primarily follows the lives of Jake and Stella, two strangers who have never met…until a strange coincidence unites them in Scotland. There are countless twists and turns but I think the most haunting weave of narrative was Stella’s reactions to seeing this man…the fragmented storyline works really well with this subplot because it never reveals too much, we never know what happened until quite near the end of the novel when it is finally revealed.

It is a fantastic novel blending family relations, cultures, tragedies, courage in the face of adversity, heartache and love and it was just a really fascinating, enjoyable read.  I would probably steer clear of this book (and ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’) if you prefer a straight narrative, but similarly, O’Farrell’s novels are filled with such brilliant characters and gripping events that you could probably get over the disjointedness of it because you’d already be swept up into it!

‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’

This book is quite simply a hidden gem! It was highly recommended by a friend, who had herself read it in one sitting and I soon found myself following suit. I physically could not put it down!

‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’ by Maggie O’Farrell tells the tale of Esme Lennox who was committed to a mental institution at the age of sixteen. Over sixty years later (because the institution is closing down), she leaves Cauldstone Institution and meets her grand-niece Iris. Nobody visited her in Cauldstone, not even her family. She quite literally vanished into history until Iris arrives unexpectedly and helps her reclaim her life in a completely different era, unrestricted by class hierachy.

The book switches between the 1930s when Esme was committed, to the 1990s when she meets Iris and also interjects moments of Kitty Lennox’s fractured memories. Kitty, Esme’s sister has Alzheimer’s and subsequently, her narrative is disjointed and reveals intriguing details that she remembers very clearly, as if not even Alzheimer’s can make her forget poignant moments of the past…although she remembers the events in a more idealized, self-less way…

As the novel unfolds, we begin to piece together the fragmented narratives, become completely engrossed in the tale and find ourselves desperate to find out why Esme was erased from history. Whilst reading the sections depicting Esme’s ‘uncontrollable actions’, I couldn’t help feeling that had I grown up in Esme’s day, trapped by the rigidity of the class system and her parent’s desperation to keep face; I too would probably have been committed…

The novel reveals a lot about human nature and just when you think that you’ve figured the plot out, Kitty’s ramblings throw a spanner into the works. This book is brilliant. It makes you feel somewhat like a historian yourself, unpicking the details and piecing together evidence from a variety of sources. It also encourages a great sense of relief that the times have changed.

‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’ is a beautifully written, heart-achingly devastating, haunting novel, which I absolutely loved! I just wish I’d discovered it sooner! I’m definitely going to look out for more of O’Farrell’s novels on my next Waterstones visit!