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The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd
  

The Words in My Hand

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Shortlisted for The Authors' Club Best First Novel Award 2017.

A gloriously readable and emotional fictional tale based on the relationship between Dutch maid Helena Jans van der Strom and philosopher, mathematician and scientist Rene Descartes, in 17th century Amsterdam. Helena tells her own story, and we have intimate access to her thoughts and feelings as she learns the magic of words, writing and thinking beyond the obvious. It feels as though Guinevere Glasfurd has seen into the heart and soul of Helena, as though this really could be her story. The author also has the gift of shaping the outside world, of painting a vivid picture of life in these times. Sending thoughts skittering down unexpected paths and opening up the world of Descartes, ‘The Words In My Hand’ is a truly lovely and captivating debut. ~ Liz Robinson

Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016.

Costa judges comment: “Glasfurd brings the 17th century Netherlands to vivid life in this sensitive, compelling tale of love and loss.”

Synopsis

The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd

The Words in My Hand is the reimagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th-century Amsterdam, who works for Mr Sergeant the English bookseller. When a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives - the Monsieur - Mr Sergeant insists everything must be just so. It transpires that the Monsieur is Rene Descartes. But this is Helena's story: the woman in front of Descartes, a young woman who yearns for knowledge, who wants to write so badly she makes ink from beetroot and writes in secret on her skin - only to be held back by her position in society. Weaving together the story of Descartes' quest for reason with Helena's struggle for literacy, their worlds overlap as their feelings deepen; yet remain sharply divided. For all Descartes' learning, it is Helena he seeks out as she reveals the surprise in the everyday world that surrounds him. When reputation is everything and with so much to lose, some truths must remain hidden. Helena and Descartes face a terrible tragedy and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.

Reviews

'Excellent... The novel is based on enigmatic references to Helena and her illegitimate child in biographies of Descartes - she is the unseen woman behind the great man. Glasfurd has created an entirely unsentimental love story, with a memorable and engaging heroine. She takes the narrowness of Helena's life and her kicks against its confines, and spins them into an original tale.' The Times (Book of the Month)

'An accomplished first novel... A quietly passionate story of a young woman who burns to be allowed to write, to acquire knowledge, and to love her elusive Monsieur. In casting Helena as proto-feminist, artistic, courageous, Glasfurd gives her narrative a rather modern sensibility but it is this quality that makes it such a satisfying read. She brilliantly dissects the complex frustrations of a woman in love with a man consumed by intellectual obsessions. There is much to move us here.' Guardian

'a striking debut... her portrait of love across barriers of class, and of Helena's yearning for education, is a touching one' The Sunday Times

'An absorbing and moving read' Woman's Weekly

'Amsterdam in the 17th Century springs to life in The Words in My Hand...This first novel from Guinevere Glasfurd is wonderfully atmospheric' Good Housekeeping (Ones To Watch)

'Beautifully written' Choice magazine

About the Author

Guinevere Glasfurd

Guinevere Glasfurd's short fiction has appeared in Mslexia, the Scotsman and in a collection from The National Galleries of Scotland. The Words In My Hand, her first novel, was written with the support of a grant from Arts Council England. She manages the Words and Women Twitter feed, a voluntary organisation representing women writers in the East of England and can be found online at guinevereglasfurd.com and @guingb.

Author photo © Stefano Masse

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Book Info

Publication date

9th February 2017

Author

Guinevere Glasfurd

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Author's Website

guinevereglasfurd.com/
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Publisher

Two Roads an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton General Division

Format

Paperback
432 pages

Categories

Literary Fiction
All Shortlists and Winners
Historical Fiction
eBook Favourites

Historical fiction

ISBN

9781473617872

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