The Hand That First Held Mine

The narrative of this wistful English love story jumps back and forth in time between the mid-20th century and the present day, alternating between the perspectives of the two main protagonists, Lexie and Elina.

The novel opens in the mid-1950s when Lexie Sinclair, fed up with life on her parents farm, serendipitously meets handsome, urbane 34-year-old Innes Kent on a country lane. Lexie notices that Innes' tie is the color of duck eggs, and this brightness suggests to her an enthralling universe of cosmopolitan possibilities. Lexie follows Innes back to London and falls in love, both with him and with Londons bohemian publishing world, to which Innes serves as her experienced guide.

Half a century later, Elina Vilkuna, an artist and new mother in London, finds herself suffering from postpartum memory lapses. As she tries in a daze to piece together her traumatized recollections of her life-threatening C-section, her husband, Ted, is facing his own demons. Jarred by unfamiliar childhood flashbacks and overwhelmed by shell-shocked sensations, he feels increasingly vulnerable. Together, Elina and Ted unearth the harrowing, decades-old secret that lies at the heart of Teds distress, bridging their world with Lexie's.

OFarrell is an excellent storyteller who expertly evokes the sharp thrill of first love and the sleepless, besotted blur of new-motherhood. Though one or two plot twists may challenge our suspension of disbelief, they are made up for by the human believability of her characters and the quirky clarity with which she portrays midcentury Londons modernist charms.