The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell (and some musings on book covers)

Winner of the Costa Novel Award in 2010, ‘The Hand That First Held Mine’ by Maggie O’Farrell features two alternating narratives.  The first one is set in the 1950s and tells the story of Lexie, a young woman who runs away to start a new life in the Soho area of London and falls in love with Innes Kent, a magazine editor.  The second is set in the present day and tells the story of Elina, a young Finnish woman who has just had a baby with her partner, Ted.  The two generations are linked, but how?

After having read a lot of heavy historical fiction recently, ‘The Hand That First Held Mine’ was quite an easy read but it is by no means a throwaway book and it certainly didn’t win the Costa Novel Award for nothing.  O’Farrell weaves the two stories together very skilfully.  At one point, I thought I had the whole book figured out but in the end, it turned out that I was wrong which was very pleasing.  O’Farrell’s writing is quite sparse but always emotionally resonant, particularly when dealing with the main theme of the book which is motherhood.  Overall, I thought it was a very subtle, sensitive and satisfying novel which I would definitely recommend.

On a side note, I must say that I really like the cover of this edition of ‘The Hand That First Held Mine’ which features a photograph taken by John Deakin (if you’ve read the book, then you’ll know that this is relevant to the story).  However, I have noticed that some of the covers of O’Farrell’s earlier novels, such as this one of ‘My Lover’s Lover’, are nowhere near as good.

This has got me thinking about the importance of book design.  Based on what I’ve read so far as well as other people’s reviews of her other novels, O’Farrell’s work is more than just over-sentimental chick-lit and I think it’s unfortunate that some of the covers fail to reflect this.  On the other hand, this cover of her latest novel, ‘Instructions for a Heatwave’, is far better.  I wonder if O’Farrell’s publishers have started taking a different marketing strategy in light of her literary success?  Or am I reading too much into this?

People say that you shouldn’t judge books by their covers but marketing is a fact of life in the publishing industry and it is clear that certain genres are often tailored to specific audiences.  What do you think?  Do you judge books by their covers?  Have you ever initially dismissed a really great author because of a terrible book cover?


Filed under Books

15 responses to “The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell (and some musings on book covers)

  1. I have to say I don’t judge books by their covers but I do enjoy owning lovely covers. I’ve read many books that have had ugly covers that have been very interesting. However, I do believe that beautiful covers attract the eye and we are maybe enticed into picking up a book with a snazzy cover, while hoping it will be a good read. I like the cover for Instructions for a Heatwave.


  2. LucyBre

    I think that we all judge books by their covers-no matter what we say. My favourites are the ones with simple, eye-catching illustrations that represent the novel. For example, on the cover of ‘The President’s Hat’ there is a simple sketched hat with a silhouette of Paris in the background and the title is in the colours of the French flag. From that you can tell that it is set in Paris, France and has something to do with the hat (not like the title told you that or anything… lol)


  3. I don’t really pick a book for its cover, but might be put off by a misleading one. Like your previous commenter, though, I love owning beautiful books and have even bought an occasional hardback after reading the Kindle version purely for the joy of owning the book.


  4. If you’ve enjoyed this then do read O’Farrell’s latest, ‘Instructions for a Heatwave’. I think it’s even better and have been giving it to all my friends as a birthday present ever since it came out.


  5. Yep, whether we want to or not, covers do play a key role – I’ve discovered many a good novelist after being drawn in by the cover.


  6. I judge a book by its cover! I would never pick up My Lover’s Lover based on the cover but I’ve actually bought (but not yet read) the other two books…based on the cover!


  7. Great review. I read this a while ago and loved it. Like you, I thought I knew how things would turn out and was surprised by some of the twists. I loved Lexie as a heroine too and the cover is great as that is exactly how I would have imagined her.


  8. I love having a hunch during my read and having to be proven wrong in the end by the author itself. I love being deceived, only by book plots. And yes, the first thing that grab my attention is the book cover. Then, I would read the blurb at the back. If I am still interested, I am going to go open the cover and read the first line. If I fall in love, then I go straight to the counter.

    So, publishers should really bear in mind that cover can either do the book good or harm.


  9. It sounds like a great novel and since I hadn’t read any O’Farrell I think this would be a great place to start. It kind of reminds me of Kate Morton’s books.


  10. Pingback: Other Books I Read in 2013 But Didn’t Review | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

  11. Pingback: Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

  12. Pingback: New Books Coming Soon in 2016 | A Little Blog of Books

  13. Pingback: This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell | A Little Blog of Books

  14. I do so agree with this post, which I have only just read. I agree about the subtle changes in the dust jackets to Maggie O’Farrell’s books and also the care and sometimes seemingly carelessness of the designs on her books and some others. It is something I frequently comment on in my own blog, the good, bad and undeniably ugly. The dust jacket is not why I chose a book but I am much more likely to hang on to a book with a “good” design.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.