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Femme Bookend: The Hand that First Held Mine

Interwoven tales, begad?

Finnish artist Elina is recovering from something she can't remember -- in fact, a near-death caesarian. But all she knows is random broken images -- a scarlet arc that's something like blood, something like a silk scarf.

Very artistic.

Her partner, Ted, has the opposite problem: unattached memories that have no reference in his life keep interrupting him at unexpected moments.


A woman, he knows the face but he can't place her -- that kind of thing. It's making him feel as if he has lost part of himself, he's cracking to pieces. And now he has a child and a mother to mind.


Back in the 1930s it's a whole different scene. Young Alexandra Sinclair -- Lexie -- falls in love with the dangerously attractive magazine editor Innes Kent.

Been there.

But Innes' wife is a nasty type, the kind of narcissist who'll lie to even the most vulnerable person if it suits her whim. And when tragedy strikes, Lexie's life changes.

Oh! Gloom!

But bravery. Lexie will be famous -- an art critic who hangs out with Picasso, Dali, Deakin.

Who dat?

Soho art-scene snapper famous for his photos -- of Bacon, actors, poets, drunks -- and, it turns out, Lexie. When Ted and Lena go to a retrospective of his work, Ted's haunting ramps up a few notches.

But Lexie, what happens?

Single motherhood wasn't easy for a country girl from a county family. Lexie lives her life and makes her compromises until . . .

Don't tell me!

You're right, you'll want to read it. But, a warning: this is a slow book but the writing is electric and, if you don't insist on high-concept thrills, you're going to love this.

Who's the author?

O'Farrell is, as you might have guessed, Irish -- born in Coleraine. She now lives and writes in Hampstead after glam jobs such as reporting in Hong Kong. She's garlanded with awards: a Betty Trask for her first, After You'd Gone, and a Somerset Maugham for her third, The Distance Between Us. > Lucille REdmond