Tag-Archive for ◊ somerset maugham award ◊

Author:
• Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

Maggie O’Farrell was born in Coleraine, Northern Ireland in 1972 but grew up in Wales and Scotland. She worked as a teacher, art administrator, as a journalist in Hong Kong and a Deputy Literary Editor of The Independent On Sunday newspaper. Presently she works as a full time novelist.

O’Farrell has written six novels thus far. Her first: After You’d Gone, published in 2000, won her the Betty Trask Award in 2001. For her third: The Distance Between Us, published in 2004, she won the 2005 Somerset Maugham Award. As for her fifth novel: The Hand That First Held Mine, published in 2010, she won the Costa Book Awards. O’Farrell’s latest novel: Instructions For A Heatwave, was published in 2013. She lives in Edinburgh with her novelist husband, William Sutcliffe and their two children.

The Hand That First Held Mine is the story of two women, two destinies at two different epochs which are skilfully intertwined by the author. In the fifties, the rebellious, twenty-one-year graduate, Alexandra Sinclair, leaves home in Devon, England to experience a new life in central London, following a chance meeting with Innes Kent, the ebulliently charming thirty-four-year old art dealer, journalist, critic and self-confessed hedonist.

Under Innes Kent’s love and guidance, the young, impetuous Alexandra becomes the newly emancipated, Lexie and experiences for the first time working with Innes and other journalists in the offices of “Elsewhere”, the avant-garde magazine, as well as having an early taste of bohemian life in Soho. The clever, motivated, Lexie will quickly learn to appreciate art and to become a successful art critic and reporter.

Lexie is in love with Innes and decides to live with him in his apartment following his insistence. They are happy together, the only blemish being Innes’s estranged wife, the opportunist, Gloria and her submissive young daughter, Margot. Later in the story, after Kent’s untimely death, mother and daughter in unison take their revenge on Lexie and her son Theo. Margot will marry Felix, the journalist, who is Lexie’s colleague as well as occasional lover and Theo’s father.

Margot’s revenge continues after Lexie’s premature death, when little Theo comes to live with his father, Felix and herself. Margot – who was unable to have children – changes the child’s name from Theo to Ted and pretends to be his real mother. Margot and her mother Gloria keep the family’s secret tightly hidden from him. Felix, being a weak character accepts to go along with their wicked deceit. This will create Ted’s instability and torment as an adult, especially when he himself becomes a father.

A generation later, the thirty-one-year-old Elina Vilkuna, a Finnish painter, is recovering from a traumatic first childbirth by cesarian which nearly killed her and is about to destroy her relationship with her thirty-five-year old boyfriend – and father of her newly born Jonah – the film editor, Ted, who has been behaving oddly ever since.

Following her release from hospital with her newly born son, Jonah, Elina feels bewildered. She appears to have lost all memory of her dreadful delivery and seems to be living in a world of make believe. She makes the effort of trying to recall what happened and can remember in little strokes, like when her red scarf falls, it reminds her of the “jets of blood…in the scrubbed white of the room”.

As Elina is starting to emerge slowly from her amnesia and state of lethargy, Ted’s childhood is returning to him frequently now, in a blurred, handicapping form. He is having an awakening of his long-buried subconscious and is desperately looking for a guiding hand as a beacon to shed some light on all these inexplicably shadowy areas from his infancy which don’t correspond to the stories that “his mother”, Margot, told him.

Being predisposed to hypnotic periods, there are gaps in Ted’s memory. There are many old memories that contradict his other childhood and he is under the impression of having lived two childhoods. There are things he wants to remember but is unable to. He recalls some scenes from the past, a few puzzling flashbacks, like the first outlines on a canvas, he needs to complete the painting, which is difficult with lots of mysteries left unanswered by his parents.

Feeling guilty after his son’s deep depression and collapse, Felix reveals the whole secret story to Elina. He confesses his culpability and remorse and asks her to mediate between him and his son in order for his son to forgive him for concealing the truth from him for all these years.

The two stories run in alternating chapters between Lexie and Elina, without being connected at first, but towards the end the author, with a twist, thanks to her skilful magic wand, makes them converge into one without any exertion but with extreme intensity, compassion and sensitivity.

The Hand That First Held Mine is about the destructive power of the unspoken among members of the same family and the impact on people’s life due to the loss of a family member. The power of the past in re-modelling the present and transcending it, as well as the gratification and richness that parenthood brings to a mother and a father but also how the birth of a first child can change everything in one’s life. It is also about a mother’s deep love and sacrifices – Lexie and Elina are two ambitious career women who try to re-adapt after being jolted to so many responsibilities with their first new-born.

In one of her interviews, Maggie O’Farrell says: “I was interested in writing about new motherhood … the shock and the emotion and exhaustion of it … which I haven’t read much about in fiction”. She also says she couldn’t have written this novel had she not experienced motherhood herself. This exact feeling is described in the novel at the time Lexie knew she was drowning: “She didn’t think in that moment of herself, of her parents, her siblings, of Innes, the life she left behind when she stepped into the waves … As the waves thrust her under, she could think only of Theo” her beloved son that she won’t experience the pleasure of seeing growing up.

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Author:
• Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Chris Cleave was born in London in 1973. His father, a highly qualified chemist who could not find work in England in the seventies, moved with his family to Cameroon, west Africa, where he built a Guinness brewery. Chris Cleave spent part of his childhood there and was back in England when he was eight years old. He first went to Hillingdon state school in London and continued his studies in Buckinghamshire, followed by psychology studies at Balliol College, Oxford.

Cleave, who is a novelist and was a columnist for the Guardian newspaper from 2008 to 2010, has worked as a barman, a long distance sailor and a marine navigation teacher.

He lives in Kingston-Upon-Thames near London with his French wife and three children.

Chris Cleave has written two novels to date plus Gold to be published in June 2012:
Incendiary, published in 2005 was adapted into a feature film.
The Other Hand, published in 2008 and will soon be adapted into a film.
He has also written three short stories: Quiet Time. Fresh Water and Oyster.

Cleave’s first novel, Incendiary, won the Somerset Maugham Award in 2006 and was short-listed for the 2006 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. In 2008 he was short-listed for the Costa Book Awards in the novel category for his second novel, The Other Hand (Little Bee).

The Other Hand was influenced by Cleave’s childhood in Cameroon. The novel is narrated by the two main characters, Sarah and Little Bee, each one with her own side of the story. The two of them met two years ago for the first time, on a beach in Nigeria in atrocious circumstances. Despite their difference in age and culture, they have in common the aspiration for a peaceful and happy life.

Sarah is an English, hard-working young woman. She is editor of a glossy, women’s magazine called Nixie and is married to the journalist, Andrew O’Rourke. They have a four-year-old child called Charlie, who dresses and carries on as the fictional super-hero character, Batman. They all live in Kingston-upon-Thames. Sarah is unhappy in her wedlock and commits adultery with Lawrence, a Home Office press officer, who is also unhappily married.

As for Udo, she has changed her name to Little Bee and has managed to escape the horror, violence and corruption in her native Nigeria, caused by big oil company exploitation, by seeking asylum in England. Little Bee’s sense of humour and wit is kept intact at all times, even at the worst moments, which helps to keep her going through all the hardships she has to endure. In fact she is quite hilarious often, creating some sort of comic relief, lightening the serious theme of the novel.

In his novel, the author tackles modern, world-wide, important problems: the immigration, the shameful treatment of asylum seekers and how they are sent to their ineluctable deaths. The reader is immersed in the subject right from the first pages of the novel, which starts in the immigration detention centre in Essex, England, where the main character, Little Bee, is detained for two years following her stowaway arrival from Nigeria on a tea cargo ship.

She succeeds in escaping thanks to a clever stratagem orchestrated by a Jamaican girl who is also an asylum seeker and who manages to rescue three girls with her from incarceration without any legal papers. From this point, the whole story unfolds in snippets, the mystery of sixteen-year-old Little Bee and the shocking encounter with the O’Rourke couple, Sarah and Andrew in Nigeria.

Throughout the novel the author transports us from sunny, warm, corrupt and violent Nigeria, whose delta inhabitants are killed because they happen to be living on the unexplored, rich oil area, to the cold, grey, mundane life in England. The contrast is stunning in every respect between the two different worlds of fortunate and unfortunate people who both suffer in different ways. The two existences portrayed in a captivating and moving way.

There is also the underlining of the choices that some people have to make in life. Sarah had to sacrifice her middle finger to save Little Bee’s life, but on the other hand, while in a panic, she thoughtlessly asked Little Bee to contact the police to come and search for her missing, four-year-old son, Charlie. This ended in having Little Bee uncovered and arrested by the same police officers she had called to the rescue. Little Bee, who is young and innocent, makes the choice of fleeing her country to escape from the killers who are after her. As for Andrew O’Rourke, who is suffering from deep depression, he chooses to commit suicide which is helped by the reappearance of Little Bee.

The story’s end is intense and effective, conveying a powerful message. This is doubtless deliberate on the part of the author in order to awaken the human compassion and sense of decency in the hope of provoking a positive reaction and not having his missive lost like a scream in the desert.

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