When I First Held You by Anstey Harris | #bookreview | @Anstey_Harris @AmazonPub @FMcMAssociates

I am very pleased to be sharing my review of Anstey Harris’s beautiful new book, When I First Held You, today. I haven’t yet read her acclaimed first novel, The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, but did enjoy her second novel, Where We Belong. First let’s find out what this book is about.

About the book

Silence tore them apart. Can the truth bring them back together?

In 1960s Glasgow, anti-nuclear activists Judith and Jimmy fall in love. But their future hopes are dashed when their protestors’ squat is raided and many, including Jimmy, are sent to prison. Pregnant and with no word from Jimmy, Judith is forced to enter an unmarried mothers’ home, give up their baby and learn to live with her grief.

More than half a century later, Judith’s Mending Shop restores broken treasures, just as Judith herself has been bound back together by her late, much-missed partner, Catherine. But her tranquillity is shattered when Jimmy—so different and yet somehow the same—reappears, yearning to unpick the painful past.

Realising they each know only half of the other’s story, Jimmy and Judith finally break the silence that tore apart what might have been their family. Amid heartbreak and hope, how much can now be mended?

My Thoughts

When I First Held You is a book which takes place over two time-frames beautifully blended together. In the present day we find Judith still grieving for her beloved partner Catherine, working in the Mending Shop. This is a place where volunteers repair broken items, often considered useless, making them better and often stronger than they were before. This could easily be seen as a metaphor for Judith’s life.

As a young idealistic women, Jude is in love with Jimmy and they live in a squat in Glasgow with anti-nuclear protestors. When events separate them, leaving pregnant Jude with no way to contact Jimmy, she is forced to face the harsh realities of the sixties and give up her child. Women were often caught between old values and freer ways of thinking in this time of cultural and social change. It was sad to read how women had very little in the way of rights or choices at this time particularly when facing having a baby without a father around.

Fifty years later we see the massive impact this loss has had throughout Judith’s life. Her past though also affected her child of course and we get an insight into that too. When Jimmy makes a unexpected reappearance and more emerges about the past, there is the possibility of second chances in many ways which help Judith to come to terms with and understand what happened all those years ago. This a thought-provoking read as it makes the reader consider what makes a family. Are blood ties always stronger or is it love which binds?

It is very moving to know that this book is inspired by the author’s and her mother’s own experiences and through the book Anstey Harris gives voice to countless women who had no say. Judith’s life was always that bit broken with something missing. Rather like the Japanese art of kintsugi which repairs broken pottery in a way that makes it stronger and more beautiful than before, Judith finds ways to heal her damaged soul. Anstey Harris’s beautiful, insightful writing makes When I First Held You a compelling and powerful read.

Thanks to Rhiannon at FMcM Associates for sending an early copy of the book for review.
When I First Held You is published by Lake Union and available now in paperback, ebook and audiobook.

About the Author

Anstey Harris was born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool in 1965. Now a mother and stepmother herself, she lives in Scotland where she runs a writing retreat. She has been inspired by her family history, and hopes to give a voice to the women and children—16,000 a year during the 1960s in the UK—separated from each other by forced adoptions.

Anstey won the H. G. Wells Short Story Award in 2015 and her debut novel, The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, a Richard and Judy Book Club choice, won the Sapere Books RNA Popular Romantic Fiction Award in 2020. Her second novel, Where We Belong, was shortlisted for the RNA Book of the Year Award 2021 and she numbers Libby Page, Katie Fforde and Beth O’Leary among her many fans.

4 thoughts on “When I First Held You by Anstey Harris | #bookreview | @Anstey_Harris @AmazonPub @FMcMAssociates

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