Publisher: Headline Review
Length: 384 pages
About: Portrait of two women 50 years apart
Style: 3rd person
Where: England (Devon and London)
When: 1950s and 2000s
When the sophisticated Innes Kent turns up on her doorstep, Lexie Sinclair realises she cannot wait any longer for her life to begin, and leaves for London. There, at the heart of the 1950s
Soho art scene, she carves out a new life. In the present day, Elina and Ted are reeling from the difficult birth of their first child. Elina struggles to reconcile the demands of motherhood with
sense of herself as an artist, and Ted is disturbed by memories of his own childhood that don't tally with his parents' version of events. As Ted begins to search for answers, an extraordinary
portrait of two women is revealed, separated by fifty years, but connected in ways that neither could ever have expected.
When Lexie reaches the fringes of Soho, she stops. She feels for Innes Kent's note and business card, which she has kept in her bag since the day she met him. She doesn't need to look but she does
anyway. Editor, it reads, Elsewhere Magazine, Bayton Street, Soho, London W1.
Mrs Collins had been shocked that morning when Lexie came upon her on the stairs and let slip she was going to Soho later in the day. Lexie had asked her why. 'Soho?' Mrs Collins replied. 'It's
full of bohemians and inebriates.' Then she narrowed her eyes. 'You,' she said, and pointed at Lexie, 'you're always asking why, aren't you? Curiosity killed the cat.'
Lexie laughed. 'But I'm not a cat, Mrs Collins,' she said, and ran the rest of the way down the stairs.
Lexie looks up the street that on her map is marked as Moor Street. It seems quiet for a place full of inebriates. There is one car parked at the side of the road; a man is standing in a doorway,
reading a newspaper; there is an awning half closed above a shop; in a third-storey window a woman is leaning out to water some flowers in a window box.
And yet the pace of the book is never achieved at the cost of its poetry: O'Farrell writes with acute perception, paying attention to the smallest details, those everyday moments that
imperceptibly heighten an experience. When Ted recalls eating chocolate buttons, he remembers "the feel … against his tongue, their domed tops, their latticed bases, which melt into smoothness as he
O'Farrell has a remarkable ability to convey the texture of human emotion with precision. In The Hand That First Held Mine, she also demonstrates a masterful gift for
Observer, Elizabeth Day 25th April 2010 to see full review click here
Not so good:
As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that past and present are connected, though the historical plot outshines the contemporary storyline throughout.
The Independent, Emma Hegestedt, 11th February 2011 to see full review click here
About the author
Born in 1972, Coleraine Northern Ireland and grew up in Wales and Scotland. At the age of eight she missed a year of school due to a viral infection, an event that is echoed in The Distance
Between Us. Maggie worked as a journalist, both in Hong Kong and as the Deputy Literary Editor of The Independent on Sunday. She has also taught creative writing.
She is married to the novelist William Sutcliffe, whom she met at Cambridge. They live in Hampstead Heath, London, with their two children. She has described Sutcliffe as 'a huge influence',
saying, 'Will's always been my first reader, even before we were a couple, so he's a huge influence. He's brutal but you need that'.