Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell

This book was recommended here (and she writes such fabulous reviews you should go and read it). I reserved it at the library – I was about fifth in line – and one day an email arrives to say it was waiting for me.

Lexie Sinclair cannot stay. Enclosed within her parents’ genteel country lawn, she yearns for more. She makes her way to the big city, hungry for life and love, where she meets a magazine editor, Innes, a man unlike any she has ever imagined. He introduces her to the thrilling underground world of bohemian postwar London, and she learns to be a reporter, to know art and artists, to live her life fully and with a deep love at the center of it. When that love is threatened, she nearly loses the self she worked so hard to find. But then, she will create many lives, all of them unconventional. And when she finds herself pregnant by a man wholly unsuitable for marriage or fatherhood, she doesn’t hesitate for a minute to have the baby on her own, to be shaped by her love for her child.

Later, in present-day London, a young painter named Elina dizzily navigates the first weeks of motherhood. Her boyfriend, Ted, traumatized by nearly losing her in labor, begins to recover lost memories. He cannot place them. But as they become more disconcerting and return more frequently, we discover that something connects these two stories – these two women – something that becomes all the more heartbreaking and beautiful as they all hurtle toward its revelation.

A stunning portrait of motherhood and the artist’s life in all their terror and glory, Maggie O’Farrell’s newest novel is a gorgeous inquiry into the ways we make and unmake our lives, who we know ourselves to be, and how even our most accidental legacies connect us.

I loved this book. I tried to find more of O’Farrell’s work, but all of my local book stores (both chain and independent) didn’t have any.

It is written in two different time periods – one in the past and one in the present. You know at some stage the stories are going to merge/cross, but at first they seem disparate and as the story unfolds obvious, but how it all comes robe that way is a mystery to the very end.

The story set in the past involves Lexie and Innes. Free-spirited journalists who write about art and culture. The modern story involves Elina and Ted who have just had a baby. The birth was extremely traumatic and Ted starts to remember things long forgotten. O’Farrell writes beautifully about the exhaustion, confusion and overwhelming love involved with a newborn baby.

This story is well plotted and the tension rises with each chapter as you become aware of the final outcome, but how does it come about? I don’t want to reveal too much. This novel is excellent, the dialogue is superb, the relationships brilliantly imagined.

More reviews …

http://giraffeelizabeth.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/the-hand-that-first-held-mine-maggie-ofarrell/

http://myporchblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/book-review-hand-that-first-held-mine.html

http://harrietdevine.typepad.com/harriet_devines_blog/2010/03/the-hand-that-first-held-mine.html

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The Book Shop – Penelope Fitzgerald

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This is just a quick post (more of a reminder to myself) to say I read this book, I enjoyed it, the ending was unexpected, but realistic and I shall be looking for more of her work.

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Reading Madame Bovary – Amanda Lohrey


A friend recommended this one. It is a book of (longish) short stories. Nine all together. I preferred the ones that had a female point of view Lohrey does a great job of getting inside her character’s heads and writing their innermost thoughts – like the sexual fantasy in ‘Primates’. The stories felt very real (I wonder if some are her own experiences or maybe her friends?)

One thing I’ve been noticing lately is dialogue. If it seems wooden and unrealistic, then I’m jolted out of the story. Like the Mills&Boon elements to The Discovery of Witches. That didn’t happen with this book, so I must conclude that the dialogue was good.

I seem to be far more articulate about what I don’t like then what I do like – the things that put me off reading seem to stand out whereas it is hard to catch the good things in the act – definitely something to work on. I’m looking forward to reading more of Lohrey’s work.

You can listen to an Interview with Amanda Lohrey.

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Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout

I selected this novel because one of the members of my Victorian Book club recommended it (we read Victorian novels). I really enjoyed it. It was like a series of short stories, but a few of the characters (like Olive) appeared in all of the stories. The novel had sad undertones and I don’t think I would have enjoyed it if I was in a dark patch in my life.

Olive Kitteridge: indomitable, compassionate and often unpredictable. A retired school teacher in a small coastal town in Maine, struggling to make sense of the changes in her life a’s she grows older. She is a woman who sees into the hearts of others, discerning their triumphs and tragedies.
We meet her stoic husband, bound to her in a marriage both broken and strong, and a young man who acts for the mother he lost – and whom Olive comforts by her mere presence, while her own son feels tyrannized by her overbearing sensitivities.
A penetrating, vibrant exploration of the human soul in need, Olive Kitteridge will make you laugh, nod in recognition, wince in pain and shed a tear or two.

The writing was excellent and the characters lived off the page. I will definitely be looking for other Strout novels.

Here is the review from the New York Times Olive Kitteridge

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The Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness


I find it quite hard to categorize this book. On the one hand it is full of interesting historical detail and on the other it descends into a ‘mills and boon’ style romance. Having said that I found it a compelling read and I read it very quickly and I’m sure I will read the next installment.

Here is the blurb …

When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer.
For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.
Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.

This book is a sophisticated version of ‘Twilight‘ – Twilight for grownups perhaps?

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