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The Words In My Hand: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016 (Hardback)
  • The Words In My Hand: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016 (Hardback)
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The Words In My Hand: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016 (Hardback)

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£16.99
Hardback 432 Pages / Published: 14/01/2016
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Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016

I did not want a coin or token or keepsake. I wanted words, some note – but there was none. He’d gone without taking his leave. He’d taken what was his with him.

What are the words in your hand, the words forbidden to you, compared to those that come unbidden to your mind and demand to be heard?

The Words in My Hand is the re-imagined 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.

Helena's life, like that of so many women in history, is scarcely recorded. In The Words in My Hand she is 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 as a servant, and as a woman.

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, Helena has much to teach him about a hidden world of deep emotion and passionate love.

At a time when reputation is everything and with so much to lose, some truths must remain hidden. Helena and Descartes face terrible tragedy and debilitating scandal and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.

A haunting a memorable debut for fans of The Miniaturist and Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Words in My Hand considers what we will sacrifice for personal ambition and intellectual freedom and the price of love in a time of censure.

'Excellent… an entirely unsentimental love story with a memorable and engaging heroine’ - The Times (Book of the Month)

'A striking debut' The Sunday Times

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
ISBN: 9781473617858
Number of pages: 432
Weight: 694 g
Dimensions: 240 x 163 x 38 mm


MEDIA 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 *
This is a fascinating book fleshing out the life of a real woman and her story; it brings to vivid life the frustrations of women who were denied access to education and art. In an age when reputation meant everything and to be different often meant to be beaten down, Helena stands as an icon facing challenges as desperate as those faced by Descartes. Despite this, Glasfurd is honest about the reality of their unequal relationship as Helena must regularly take second place. Fans of The Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Miniaturist will love this tale * Historical Novel Society *
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. * LoveReading (January Debut of the Month) *
I loved this book and it's definitely a highlight to kick off the new year with. Cracking * Falcata Times *
Fresh and deftly written, The Words in my Hand is a subtle and quiet character-driven novel that beautifully evokes time and place, as well as character. I enjoyed getting to know Helena, empathising with her struggles and identifying with her dreams. * Blurb Magazine (Australia) *
17th-century Amsterdam sparkles into life in this delightful, playful and beautifully written debut. I loved it! * Rachel Hore, bestselling author of A WEEK IN PARIS *
Guinevere Glasfurd's writing is fresh and elegant. I loved the subject and the way she brings Amsterdam in the 1600s into vivid, believable life. A lovely book. * Dinah Jefferies, bestselling author of THE TEA PLANTER'S WIFE *
It may be a love story but Guinevere has perfected a balance between all the elements, making this book a rare thing: romance with cross-gender appeal. There are moments of beautiful lyricism and yet it's not mushy or poetic to the detriment of the totally absorbing storyline. The added bonus is that we get an idea of some of Descartes' projects and experiments as they're spliced skilfully into the narrative...Indeed, when an author can make us feel sorry for someone who makes life harder for our heroine, it's definitely difficult to think of this work as a debut. That says it all really: a book to own by a name to watch * Bookbag *
A quietly powerful novel of love, ambition and betrayal. Glasfurd's depiction of the eternal tension between domestic realities and intellectual ambition is precisely nuanced, and suffused with all the cool charm of its Dutch Golden Age setting. * Kate Worsley, author of SHE RISES *
The Words In My Hand tells a moving story with quiet confidence and masterful restraint. Glasfurd's evocation of 17th century Holland through the voice of young Helena - servant girl and mistress of Descartes - is vivid, plausible, and hugely engrossing. An astonishingly accomplished and mature first novel. * Shelley Weiner *

The story beautifully illustrates how, but for social convention, women could have been positively contributing to shaping our view of the world, just as philosophers like Descartes did.
Descartes and Helena's love story is beautifully drawn, particularly the early stages. It's real and tender and when he is gone she notes that "the space still holds the shape of him".
The Words in My Hand is a great debut novel which, as well as painting a wonderful picture of 17th-century Amsterdam, finally gives Helena her place in history.

* For Books' Sake *
The Words in My Hand, Guinevere Glasfurd's captivating debut novel of a Dutch maid's affair with Descartes, is compelling, lush, impressive * Kate Mayfield, author of THE UNDERTAKER'S DAUGHTER *
Meticulous research and fabulous writing... This really is history brought to vivid life... The Words in My Hand is not a book to be rushed, but to be appreciated almost syllable by syllable. It is very special indeed and I adored it * Linda's Bookbag blog *

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Reviews

View all

“Absolutely stunning and evocative”

When housemaid Helena encounters the infamous René Descartes, two totally disparate world collide with surprising effects.

My goodness The Words in My Hand is a wonderful, wonderful book. Shortlisted for the Costa... More

Paperback edition
11th February 2017
Helpful? Upvote 24
TripFiction

“Tripping back to 17th Century NETHERLANDS”

I had been eyeing this novel up for a while, having been drawn to the fetching cover of the hardback edition. My interest was further piqued when it was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016.

It is a story... More

Hardback edition
11th February 2017
Helpful? Upvote 8

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