Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016.
The Words in my Hand is the reimagined true story of Helena, a 17th-century Dutch maid desperate to educate herself and use her mind in an era when women were kept firmly in their place.
Helena works in the Amsterdam lodging house of an English bookseller who rents out a room to the mysterious 'Monsieur', who turns out to be René Descartes. Always trying to keep one step ahead of the authorities desperate to suppress his free thinking, Descartes and Helena form an unlikely bond which turns from teaching into an affair.
For all his learning, it's Helena who provides him with insights and emotional perspective from the everyday life all around him. For this is Helena's story, a woman who yearned for knowledge, who wanted to write so badly - and who could afford nothing - she made her own ink from beetroot and used her body for paper.
Weaving together the story of Descartes' quest for reason with Helena's struggle for literacy, the novel follows Helena's journey across the Dutch Republic as she tries to keep their young daughter secret. Through Helena's story, everyday objects are transformed into new ways of learning. Their worlds overlap yet remain sharply divided; the only way of being together is living unseen. Helena and Descartes face a terrible tragedy and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.
"Excellent...an entirely unsentimental love story with a memorable and engaging heroine." (The Times [Book of the Month])
"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." (Dinah Jefferies, best-selling author of The Tea Planeter's Wife)
"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)
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- Mr C.