For every author who has struggled in torment over the first line of a novel, take heed: Maggie O’Farrell had me hooked with a single word.
I had just battled my way through another Rachel Cusk, a writer who I feel I ought to read, but whose characters are, almost without exception, thoroughly unlikeable, and who is obsessed with the minutae and detritus of life. And then I picked up The Hand That First Held Mine and I felt that I could breathe again.
From The Birth of the British Novel (BBC4), I learned how early authors provided instructions to their readers on how to use the novel. But now we are wise, we are educated, we are sophisticated. The only problem is that we have forgotten how to be still. We need to be reminded to slow down.
“Listen,” she told me. Just one word: Listen. And it was the, ‘Are you sitting quietly?’ the ‘Once Upon a Time’ of children’s stories. I knew that I was in safe hands.