Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Publisher: Tinder Press
Publishing Date: 31st March 2020
Source: Received from the publisher, thank you!
Number of pages: 3384
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction
Drawing on Maggie O’Farrell’s long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, HAMNET is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child.
Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.
Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel breathes full-blooded life into the story of a loss usually consigned to literary footnotes, and provides an unforgettable vindication of Agnes, a woman intriguingly absent from history.
“Hamnet” takes us to Stratford – upon – Avon in 1596, when a young girl Judith is taken to bed with a fever. Her twin brother Hamnet is desperate to find help but their mother is not at home – she’s not far away, in her garden, tending to her medicinal herbs – and their father is working in London. So begins the story – also – behind Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”.
Reading books like “Hamnet”, where the author writes a story about real characters, always makes me wonder if their lives really looked like this. I think it must be a real challenge for the authors themselves, to re-tell the story that was told so many times and still to make it refreshing and original and not repetitive, and I can tell you that Maggie O’Farrell has done it brilliantly. Moreover, I am so, so glad that it’s not Shakespeare himself, but his wife Agnes that is the star of the story, that she takes the spotlight, as she was such a colourful and interesting character and Ms O’Farrell’s ability to create such a magical tale out of the few facts that we know about Agnes really deserves a standing ovation.
I truly appreciate the background stories, the courtship of Shakespeare and his wife – to – be but it was the present, this what was happening with their children, much more fascinating. The changes in the times were a bit confusing for me, and yes, it took me a few chapters to get used to the writing style, but then I could relax and really enjoy the flowing story. Yes, at times it was rather slow – paced and I simply wanted to go back to Hamnet and what was happening.
It is a book that explores mother’s grief at the loss of her child and there is a whole rainbow of emotions. It is an atmospheric novel capturing the essence of grief in a heart – breaking, beguiling way. The author also touches upon motherhood in the most difficult times, when the mother tries to learn how to survive after her child’s death.
The setting, time and the feeling of place were brought so vividly to the pages and richly described and the language used is evocative, almost lyrical, bringing the times to life. I can’t help but mention one of the sections of the book that will probably stay with me forever, as it is a real masterpiece of writing, where the author describes the way the plague has taken to finally arrive at Judith’s doorstep – amazing! Altogether “Hamnet” was an exceptional read with a difference that I truly enjoyed – highly recommended!
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