Hamnet
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 Details

TitleHamnet
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMar 31st, 2020
PublisherTinder Press
ISBN-139781472223791
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction

Hamnet Review

  • Ceecee
    January 1, 1970
    Maggie OFarrell is an author Ive always enjoyed reading but I think Hamnet will be one of my favourites. In 1596 Hamnet/Hamlet (names are interchangeable) the son of William Shakespeare died, cause unknown. This captivating story takes us backwards and forwards from 1580 to 1599 to the writing of Hamlet. In 1580 our would be actor and playwright is transfixed by his first sight of Agnes (Anne) Hathaway as he tries without great success to tutor her reluctant stepbrothers. We get a glimpse of his Maggie O’Farrell is an author I’ve always enjoyed reading but I think Hamnet will be one of my favourites. In 1596 Hamnet/Hamlet (names are interchangeable) the son of William Shakespeare died, cause unknown. This captivating story takes us backwards and forwards from 1580 to 1599 to the writing of Hamlet. In 1580 our would be actor and playwright is transfixed by his first sight of Agnes (Anne) Hathaway as he tries without great success to tutor her reluctant stepbrothers. We get a glimpse of his life at home with his tempestuous and violent father John who is a glove maker, mother Mary and sister Eliza. We watch as love grows between William and Agnes who has a Cinderella life with her harsh stepmother Joan, who is contemptuous of Agnes’ skills with herbs and magical powers. We are invited to their wedding and glimpse their family life. You hold your breath as the events unfold that lead to Hamnet’s death and it’s impact upon them and we are in the audience at the premier of the play in his name. Where to start? This is so well written and in a style appropriate to the century. It’s lively, vivid and captures late Elizabethan times so well that you feel you have been transported back. You are dazzled by the sights, you smell the pungent smells and are a witness to the harsh and hard reality of the times. The images are so colourful as are the characters. Agnes is wonderful, William is an enigma but Agnes understands him well, Hamnet is a clever dreamer and so close to twin sister Judith they are halves of a whole. This wonderful storyline includes magical beliefs, myths and superstitions of the time. It’s an emotional ride too as there’s hatred, selfishness, bitterness, fear, anger, agony and overwhelming sadness but also deep love. You come to understand how William ends up in London and several days journey from his family and how he gets drawn into writing and the world of theatre. The ending is especially affecting and is a very powerful end to a tale you feel connected to. Overall, this book is stunningly beautiful. I love this period and Shakespeare’s plays (some more than others!) and was lucky enough last summer to see a production of Hamlet at the Rose Theatre in York, a replica of an Elizabethan playhouse, so I guess Maggie O’Farrell already ‘had me’!! However, it doesn’t matter if you are not a fan of the work of the Bard because this is storytelling at its best. Highly recommended and an easy five stars!!Thanks to NetGalley and especially to Headline Group for the privilege of the ARC.
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  • Hannah Greendale
    January 1, 1970
    Fifth read from the 2020 Womens Prize for Fiction longlist. Fifth read from the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist.
  • Roman Clodia
    January 1, 1970
    I'm clearly in a minority here (again!) but I found this unengaging and flat. There's too much indirect speech and the whole story feels very distanced rather than immediate. O'Farrell talks in the foreword about how she's wanted to write this book for decades, and the result is that it feels laboured, weighted down with expectation that doesn't come to fruition for me. I especially hated the portrayal of Agnes as one of those almost witchy 'wise women' who abound in historical fiction: fey, I'm clearly in a minority here (again!) but I found this unengaging and flat. There's too much indirect speech and the whole story feels very distanced rather than immediate. O'Farrell talks in the foreword about how she's wanted to write this book for decades, and the result is that it feels laboured, weighted down with expectation that doesn't come to fruition for me. I especially hated the portrayal of Agnes as one of those almost witchy 'wise women' who abound in historical fiction: fey, with preternatural senses, a herbalist as a code for 'female' power... it's very predictable, very common, very Philippa Gregory! A book which is not for me, then, but clearly other reviewers have loved it.
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  • Mary Beth Keane
    January 1, 1970
    Extraordinary. Already predicting this will be one of my favorites of 2020.
  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    2.5 rounded upHamnet tells the story of Shakespeare's son of the same name who died (most likely) of bubonic plague aged 11 in 1596. The narrative mostly follows Hamnet's mother, Agnes (Anne Hathaway - Agnes is thought to be her real name according to her father's will), and her life married to the bard.Speaking as someone who a) doesn't read much historical fiction and, b) isn't a huge fan of it, I have to say that I found this an accessible and readable novel however it wasn't without its 2.5 rounded upHamnet tells the story of Shakespeare's son of the same name who died (most likely) of bubonic plague aged 11 in 1596. The narrative mostly follows Hamnet's mother, Agnes (Anne Hathaway - Agnes is thought to be her real name according to her father's will), and her life married to the bard.Speaking as someone who a) doesn't read much historical fiction and, b) isn't a huge fan of it, I have to say that I found this an accessible and readable novel however it wasn't without its issues. At times it was a bit of a slow burn and I'd have liked a bit more of a sense of place - beyond the vivid descriptions of plague-ridden characters the writing felt a bit lacking in this area. The main problem I had with the book though was that the only character which felt somewhat fleshed out was Agnes, everyone else felt pretty two-dimensional - particularly Hamnet himself. I think this was O'Farrell's intention with regard to Hamnet's father, but it still let the novel down in my view. A quibble that will likely be an ARC-exclusive issue but the Kindle formatting made it a bit of a struggle at times to work out where the alternate timelines began and ended, but overall this is a solid retelling of Hamlet's life and the subsequent play named after him which I think fans of historical fiction will enjoy.Thank you Netgalley and Headline for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Jaclyn Crupi
    January 1, 1970
    Controversial opinion ahead: OFarrell does not have the writing chops to pull this off. Its overwrought and overwritten historical fiction. Shakespeare had a son named Hamnet who died four years before Shakespeare would write Hamlet. Both names, Hamnet and Hamlet, were completely interchangeable in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Such ripe material that is never fully realised in OFarrells hands. I dont want to tear it apart so wont go into all my issues with it and Id be fascinated to Controversial opinion ahead: O’Farrell does not have the writing chops to pull this off. It’s overwrought and overwritten historical fiction. Shakespeare had a son named Hamnet who died four years before Shakespeare would write Hamlet. Both names, Hamnet and Hamlet, were completely interchangeable in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Such ripe material that is never fully realised in O’Farrell’s hands. I don’t want to tear it apart so won’t go into all my issues with it and I’d be fascinated to hear from prolific historical fiction readers about what they think. I’ve never been a huge fan of O’Farrell’s writing style but I saw this as a departure for her and thought she might be taking some interesting risks. But alas no. This will be a minority opinion I’m sure.
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  • Thebooktrail
    January 1, 1970
    Visit the locations of the story hereIm always wary of reading books where authors imagine the story behind a real event/character or rewrite a story told many times before. Will they spoil my imagined story or tell a story told so many times before? Well, my worries were unfounded with Hamnet as I was drawn in to the story of Shakespeares son. I loved Shakespeare at school but have only dipped in and out since. Ive been to Stratford a few times to see the house and this really helped me Visit the locations of the story hereI’m always wary of reading books where authors imagine the story behind a real event/character or rewrite a story told many times before. Will they spoil my imagined story or tell a story told so many times before? Well, my worries were unfounded with Hamnet as I was drawn in to the story of Shakespeare’s son. I loved Shakespeare at school but have only dipped in and out since. I’ve been to Stratford a few times to see the house and this really helped me visualise this story. O’Farrell did two things I really liked with this story. She took a story that is little known and put the son and Shakespeare’s wife at the focal point of it all. Shakespeare himself isn’t actually named in the whole book. This is very effective as the reader’s focus is quite clearly then on Hamnet himself. We are also reminded that Shakespeare was more than just a playright – he had the same family issues and worries we all have. Putting the wife and family at the heart of this story makes them stand out and have their voices heard. The story of Hamnet is a fascinating one. I did find the non-linear plot a bit confusing though the courtship of Shakespeare and his wife then the story of Hamnet as it would have made more sense written as linear to me. However, overall, the story of grief was and the true behind the scenes look at a family of a famous man was what this novel achieved well for me. The setting, time and place were richly imagined but the story of one of the most famous plays and families in the world was a literary experience I enjoyed.
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  • Jeanine Cummins
    January 1, 1970
    I dont know where Maggie OFarrell found the courage to take on such a daunting subject, but Im so glad she did. This book feels intimate and true and is absolutely beautiful. I don’t know where Maggie O’Farrell found the courage to take on such a daunting subject, but I’m so glad she did. This book feels intimate and true and is absolutely beautiful.
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  • Caroline Middleton
    January 1, 1970
    In this emotive historical tale, OFarrell reconstructs the life and death of Shakespeares son, Hamnet. Four years after his son's passing, he would write one of his most famous plays: Hamlet.Hamnet is a haunting gem of a book. OFarrell captures the experience of grief in an utterly beguiling way, each chapter revolving around the moments of Hamnets birth the courtship of his parents, the bloody confusion of his delivery and his eventual death. Its a heartbreaking fusion, told mostly through In this emotive historical tale, O’Farrell reconstructs the life and death of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet. Four years after his son's passing, he would write one of his most famous plays: Hamlet.Hamnet is a haunting gem of a book. O’Farrell captures the experience of grief in an utterly beguiling way, each chapter revolving around the moments of Hamnet’s birth – the courtship of his parents, the bloody confusion of his delivery – and his eventual death. It’s a heartbreaking fusion, told mostly through the eyes of his mother, Agnes, as she looks back on how Hamnet came to be, how he came to perish, and grapples with how to survive in a world without him in it. Motherhood is a poignant theme, meticulously unpeeled with the unravelling tragedy, and I loved how it contrasted with how the character of Shakespeare – though he is only referred to as ‘father’ or ‘husband’ in the novel - processed his only son’s death: writing.This is a story that will linger long after you’ve finished the last page, a beautiful tribute to the human condition. The language is so evocative, the theme so universal, that it feels ageless. O’Farrell really has crafted something special with this book, dare I say a future classic, and I urge everyone to read it as soon as possible.
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  • Damian
    January 1, 1970
    You can hear my interview with Maggie on the Literary Salon podcast via Itunes etc--it was her first ever interview about the book! World premiere. It's an incredible book and I can't look at apples the same way since reading it--you'll get the joke when you've read that scene. Hamnet is her first foray into deep historical fiction. Hamnet takes us back to a summer day in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1596. A young girl, Judith, takes to bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, is distraught and You can hear my interview with Maggie on the Literary Salon podcast via Itunes etc--it was her first ever interview about the book! World premiere. It's an incredible book and I can't look at apples the same way since reading it--you'll get the joke when you've read that scene. Hamnet is her first foray into deep historical fiction. Hamnet takes us back to a summer day in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1596. A young girl, Judith, takes to bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, is distraught and leaves home to find help. Their mother, Agnes, is a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. This is the heart-stopping drama behind Shakespeare’s most famous play. And all without saying the name William Shakespeare once in its pages!
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    Just like there is a Hamlet and a Hamnet, I feel there are two Hamnets: the novel that Maggie OFarrell actually wrote, and the story that has been hyped to the back of beyond since its publication was first announced back in 2019. This makes it a difficult novel to review, because, if Id just come across this book as the next Maggie OFarrell, I think Id have taken it more to my heart than I actually did. I understand why a publisher would want to try and push an author like OFarrell to the next Just like there is a Hamlet and a Hamnet, I feel there are two Hamnets: the novel that Maggie O’Farrell actually wrote, and the story that has been hyped to the back of beyond since its publication was first announced back in 2019. This makes it a difficult novel to review, because, if I’d just come across this book as ‘the next Maggie O’Farrell’, I think I’d have taken it more to my heart than I actually did. I understand why a publisher would want to try and push an author like O’Farrell to the next level; having utterly adored her last two books, her novel This Must Be The Place and her memoir I Am, I Am, I Am, I was genuinely shocked to discover that, for example, she’s never been longlisted for the Women’s Prize before. I am a long-time admirer of O’Farrell’s understated but beautiful, observational prose, and I have read everything she’s ever written. Nevertheless – and perhaps because, unlike readers discovering her for the first time, I already know how good O’Farrell can be – I felt underwhelmed by Hamnet.Hamnet is billed as telling the untold story of Shakespeare’s son, who died when he was only eleven years old, but I found this misleading in two ways. Firstly, I feel like it’s common knowledge that Shakespeare had a son who died young. Secondly, the book is really about Shakespeare’s wife, here called Agnes (Anne Hathaway was named as ‘Agnes’ in her father’s will – and I think it’s a clever choice by O’Farrell to use this name, giving herself some distance between the historical figure and her own creation). And unfortunately, I found that Agnes often fell into some familiar stereotypes, despite some transcendent moments, such as the scene when she is unable to wrap her son in his winding sheet, because it means she will never see his face again. I find historical novels that seek to tear down a man’s reputation as if that’s the only way to give the women in his life some agency intensely irritating – this was one of the reasons why I struggled with Madeline Miller’s Circe, because I didn’t like the way it treated Odysseus. Hamnet does not exactly do this. Shakespeare, never named in the text, is portrayed as a man who deeply loves his wife and children despite his long absences from home. However, there’s still a tendency to write Agnes into the story by writing him out, and I would have preferred a novel that felt more equally split between the two parents.O’Farrell brings early modern England wonderfully to life in very few words. The setting of the story is completely captivating. However, I didn’t feel that Hamnet achieved the same kind of depth in its characterisation. I’ve already suggested that Agnes feels a little stale; Hamnet himself, alongside his siblings, never became truly real to me. For this reason, the novel never broke my heart in the way it set out to do. O’Farrell writes so well about grief, but I found myself admiring her writing from afar rather than grieving with the characters. Rather than being glued to this book, I kept on thinking back to a different novel that enthralled me as a teenager, Susan Cooper’s King of Shadows. The two books are not exactly the same. Cooper tells the story of a young actor, Nat, who is thrown back in time to Elizabethan England and ends up as part of Shakespeare’s company. However, King of Shadows also portrays Shakespeare as a grieving father, forging a special connection with Nat, who is a fatherless boy – and it was the sharpness of the emotion in that book that I found myself craving.Hamnet is absolutely worth reading, especially if you haven’t read O’Farrell before. However, I don’t think it’s the ‘novel of her career’ [© publicity]. Selfishly, I’d hope that’s a novel she’s not yet written! But if we’re confined to her existing corpus, then I’d say that This Must Be The Place sees her writing at the height of her powers; that The Hand That First Held Mine is genuinely moving in a way that for me, this novel was not; and that After You’d Gone might not be the most accomplished of her books, but it remains an astonishing debut. But as I say, I still feel confident that the best is yet to come. 3.5 stars.I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review.
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  • Ruth Brookes
    January 1, 1970
    Inspired by a fascinating historical footnote; the death of a playwrights son & his famous tragedy of the same name. Hamnet is told with OFarrells usual emotional acuity & filled with unspoken truths. This is an gorgeous novel, atmospheric, honest & grounded. A quiet, intimate tale about a marriage, the loss of a child & the transformative power of connection & grief. Beautiful. Inspired by a fascinating historical footnote; the death of a playwright’s son & his famous tragedy of the same name. Hamnet is told with O’Farrell’s usual emotional acuity & filled with unspoken truths. This is an gorgeous novel, atmospheric, honest & grounded. A quiet, intimate tale about a marriage, the loss of a child & the transformative power of connection & grief. Beautiful.
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  • Candace
    January 1, 1970
    Maggie O'Farrell's "Hamnet" is as lovely a novel as you would hope it to be. Historical fiction is a new undertaking for her, and this novel is so artfully written beautifully expressed that I certainly hope it will not be her last.Set in late 16th century Stratford, it is, of course, about the loss of Shakespeare's 11-year-old son Hamnet, and what that could have meant to the artist and his family. You will be surprised and moved.Anne Hathaway--here called Agnes, as her father referred to her Maggie O'Farrell's "Hamnet" is as lovely a novel as you would hope it to be. Historical fiction is a new undertaking for her, and this novel is so artfully written beautifully expressed that I certainly hope it will not be her last.Set in late 16th century Stratford, it is, of course, about the loss of Shakespeare's 11-year-old son Hamnet, and what that could have meant to the artist and his family. You will be surprised and moved.Anne Hathaway--here called Agnes, as her father referred to her in his will--is beautifully created from very little historic information. The consummate countrywoman, she sends her husband to London to get him away from his brutal father and so that he can fulfill what she knows is within him. Nothing is disappointing in this novel, and no feeling or idea that is not explored, no matter how heartbreaking or aching the outcome.Not to be missed.~~Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader
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  • Shawna
    January 1, 1970
    I wish I would have read the authors note at the end at the beginning, she explains some of her creative choices, choices that had distracted me throughout the book. Maggie O'Farrell has become my new favorite author in recent months. I am not sure where I have been all her literary life, but I am so glad I have found her. She has a beautiful writing style, and a way of weaving stories that is elegant and caring and enjoyable. I love her creative decision to never name Hamnets father, we all I wish I would have read the authors note at the end at the beginning, she explains some of her creative choices, choices that had distracted me throughout the book. Maggie O'Farrell has become my new favorite author in recent months. I am not sure where I have been all her literary life, but I am so glad I have found her. She has a beautiful writing style, and a way of weaving stories that is elegant and caring and enjoyable. I love her creative decision to never name Hamnets father, we all know who he is, but not saying his name gives a greater power, and attention to the family members, the real stars of this story.
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  • Snoakes
    January 1, 1970
    Hamnet was Shakespeare's son, who tragically died at the age of 11. The coincidence of the name's similarity to one of his tragedies was not lost on Maggie O'Farrell and this was the inspiration for this wonderful novel. The names Hamnet and Hamlet were virtually interchangeable at the time and once you know that the idea that the death of his child is somehow connected to the play seems obvious. Although you don't need to know anything about either Shakespeare or his plays to read this - that's Hamnet was Shakespeare's son, who tragically died at the age of 11. The coincidence of the name's similarity to one of his tragedies was not lost on Maggie O'Farrell and this was the inspiration for this wonderful novel. The names Hamnet and Hamlet were virtually interchangeable at the time and once you know that the idea that the death of his child is somehow connected to the play seems obvious. Although you don't need to know anything about either Shakespeare or his plays to read this - that's not what it's about. Rather, it is a fictionalised imagining of his family back in Stratford while he is making a name for himself in London.Not much is known about Shakespeare's personal life, his children or his wife Anne Hathaway, beyond that they were married in 1852 when he was only 18 and she was 26. In fact, it is probable that we have had her name wrong all these years - her father's will named her as Agnes and she is so-named here.This is fertile ground for a novelist this talented and true to form, Maggie O'Farrell weaves a spellbinding story. She tells her tale in two strands, the first starting not long before Hamnet dies and the second from when Will and Agnes first meet. The unfolding of their mutual attraction and courtship starts from Shakespeare's point of view, but soon it all becomes about Agnes and cleverly Shakespeare quickly becomes a bit player in his own story. Behind every successful man...The lyrical prose brings Elizabethan England vibrantly to life. Agnes herself is a strong character - she is a herbalist, regularly helping the sick with her brews and dried herbs and is often found out in muddy boots gathering plants. But when Hamnet dies, she is powerless to help him and the depiction of grief at the loss of a child, even at a time when infant mortality was high is utterly heartbreaking.Absolutely fantastic stuff - Maggie O'Farrell is undoubtedly one of our finest novelists.I was extremely lucky to be given a proof copy to read and review.
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  • Mairead Hearne (swirlandthread.com)
    January 1, 1970
    Hamnet by Maggie O Farrell is the highly anticipated new release from this much loved writer. Due for publication on March 31st with Tinder Press it is described as a stunning new departure for Maggie O Farrells fiction the heart-stopping story behind Shakespeares most famous play. I studied Hamlet in school but I must add that my knowledge of Shakespeare himself is minimal so I was well intrigued to read Hamnet and dive into the imagination of Maggie O Farrell.Hamnet is a deliciously sumptuous Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell is the highly anticipated new release from this much loved writer. Due for publication on March 31st with Tinder Press it is described as ‘a stunning new departure for Maggie O’ Farrell’s fiction – the heart-stopping story behind Shakespeare’s most famous play.’ I studied Hamlet in school but I must add that my knowledge of Shakespeare himself is minimal so I was well intrigued to read Hamnet and dive into the imagination of Maggie O’ Farrell.Hamnet is a deliciously sumptuous read inspired by Maggie O’ Farrell’s fascination with a tidbit of information her teacher passed to her class over thirty years ago when studying Hamlet.“This is a novel I’ve wanted to write for over thirty years, ever since I first heard Hamnet’s name spoken in a chilly classroom in Scotland. Between every book I’ve worked on, I’ve circled around the idea and read as much as i could find about this lost son. Not long ago I went to Stratford and walked through the rooms where he spent his short life…… I wanted to give voice to Hamnet, and his mother and sisters, to imagine what life had been like in the glover’s house in Henley Street, and how the tragic events of August 1596 might have played out” – Maggie O’ FarrellHamnet is a work of art, a book that transports the reader back in time and into the early years of one of the world’s most iconic playwrights, William Shakespeare.Stratford-upon-Avon, 1596, a young boy and his twin sister are playing outside. After awhile the sister feels ill and takes to her bed. Her brother, unsure of what to do, looks everywhere for an adult to help him. His mother is over a mile away working in a garden and his father is in London. The boy cannot find his grandmother, his other sister, anyone to help his sister. She is getting weaker and he fears, as he witnesses the change in her complexion, in her constitution, that nobody will come to save her. As he awaits he lies with her to keep her company. His name is Hamnet Shakespeare and the young girl is his twin sister, Judith.William Shakespeare was a Latin tutor, highly gifted but penniless. His father had no time for his son’s obsession with the written word and bullied him on a daily basis, oft-times with a violent hand. His father was a glove maker but was not a popular man. He would manipulate others out of greed and a desire to be masterful and empowered. He promised his young son, to fulfill a debt, as a tutor to family of means, so William, with little choice, entered this house to educate and pass on his knowledge to the children, now under his tutelage.It is here that William first sets eyes on Agnes, as she moves past the window totally absorbed, totally her own person. He is immediately smitten and, on meeting her, he is instantly enraptured by this fascinating and extraordinary individual. Agnes is unlike anyone he has ever met. She understands his passions and likewise he encourages her unconventional behaviour. The locals are unsure of Agnes, as they were with her mother before her. Agnes has an insatiable thirst for knowledge about plants, bees and all the goodness that nature has to offer. She uses this talent to heal but there are some who fear her eccentricities.Agnes and William fall rapidly in love, marry and have three children.Now living alongside William’s parents, Agnes adapts to life within a town. Their marriage is passionate. Their love for each other is strong. Agnes’ reputation grows as a healer but William stagnates. He wants to write, he wants to let his imagination soar but he is stifled in Stratford. With the encouragement of Agnes, he makes the move to London, with an ambition, a dream to become the playwright he always hoped to be.A flea, one small flea, plays a leading role in this story as we follow it’s path from Alexandria across the globe carrying a deadly virus (how apt!) Maggie O’ Farrell creates an incredible tapestry threading the journey of this flea and conjuring up some remarkable images of life at the time. It is a bewildering and frightening tale.As the stage is set in London for William Shakespeare’s trajectory, his life comes crashing down. Returning at speed to Stratford he is shocked, distraught and ripped asunder by what he discovers. He has lost a child. His heart is broken and as he descends into grief, he decided to return to London and to bury himself in his work. It is Agnes who then takes centre stage, Agnes who buries deep to find the strength to keep going and to protect the family she has left.Maggie O’ Farrell has created an exceptional and magnificent piece of writing, bringing this little known piece of history to life in such wondrous detail. This is very much a story about Agnes, an extraordinary person, a loving mother and one who had a complete understanding of her husband’s need to write, whatever the cost to her. Losing a child changed Agnes. Her children were her life and her failure to protect and keep them all alive bore heavily on her shoulders.Hamnet is a powerful novel, a stunning recreation written with a remarkable narrative. Maggie O’ Farrell captures beautifully the tragedy of a life lost, a struggling marriage, a faltering relationship. The reimagining of William Shakespeare’s younger years has such an authentic feel transporting the reader right into his life, into his thoughts and dreams, into his mind. Hamnet captures something very special, something very unique. It is an exquisite novel, an irresistible read, a truly captivating and remarkable piece of literary fiction.
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  • Caroline Barron
    January 1, 1970
    Review to follow, in Otago Daily Times newspaper.Favorite quotes:Every life has its kernel, its hub, its epicenter, from which everything flows out, to which everything returns. page 8She sees how she, Agnes, must remain clam, steady, must make herself bigger, in a way, to keep the house on an even keel, not to allow it to be taken over by this darkness, to square up to it, to shield Susanna from it, to seal off her own cracks, not to let it in. page 188Could he pull off their trick, their joke, Review to follow, in Otago Daily Times newspaper.Favorite quotes:Every life has its kernel, its hub, its epicenter, from which everything flows out, to which everything returns. —page 8She sees how she, Agnes, must remain clam, steady, must make herself bigger, in a way, to keep the house on an even keel, not to allow it to be taken over by this darkness, to square up to it, to shield Susanna from it, to seal off her own cracks, not to let it in. —page 188Could he pull off their trick, their joke, just once more? He thinks he can. He thinks he will. He glances over his should at the tunnel of dark beside the door. The blackness is depthless, soft, absolute. Turn away, he says to Death. Close your eyes. Just for a moment. —page 200.She, like all mothers, constantly casts out her thoughts, like fishing lines, towards her children, reminding herself of where they are, what they are doing, how they fare. From habit, while she sits near the fireplace, some part of her mind is tabulating them and their whereabouts: Judith, upstairs. Susanna, next door. And Hamlet? Her unconscious mind casts, again and again, puzzled by the lack of bite, by the answer she keeps giving it: he is dead, he is gone. —page 258.Agnes is not the person she used to be. She is utterly changed. She can recall being someone who felt sure of life and what it would hold for her; she had her children, she had her husband, she had her home. She was able to peer into people and see what would befall them. She knew how to help them. Her feet moved over the earth with confidence and grace.This person is now lost to her for ever. She is someone adrift in her life, who doesn't recognise it. She is unmoored, at a loss. She is someone who weeps if she cannot find a shoe or overboils the soup or trips over a pot. Small things undo her. Nothing is certain any more. —page 297.
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  • Yvonne
    January 1, 1970
    What a beautifully written story Hamnet is. There is an intro from the author right at the beginning of the book that gives a wonderful insight into the idea behind this story.The story begins with Hamnet looking for his sister Judith, and when he discovers her she is ill with a fever. Their mother is out in the fields looking after her beehives and is unaware of what is happening at home.The story of Hamnet, Judith and the other family members alternates with that of Agnes, her life growing up What a beautifully written story Hamnet is. There is an intro from the author right at the beginning of the book that gives a wonderful insight into the idea behind this story.The story begins with Hamnet looking for his sister Judith, and when he discovers her she is ill with a fever. Their mother is out in the fields looking after her beehives and is unaware of what is happening at home.The story of Hamnet, Judith and the other family members alternates with that of Agnes, her life growing up and her marriage to a glover’s son who then works away in London and becomes a playwright.William Shakespeare takes a back seat in this story, or should I say he is around but mainly in the wings rather than centre stage. While the story does has reference to Shakespeare and Hamlet, it is a historical fiction story. A story that follows a family during the late 1500s.The time of the story is important as this is the same time as the plague. I do have to mention an amazing section in the book where the author describes the route of the plague, that description made the plague is almost a character in itself.The story is heartbreaking as it does deal with the death of a child, the grief of a mother and of the siblings. Yet there is something about the way it has been done that is didn’t make it feel as sad as I was expecting. Maybe it was because the name of Hamnet would live on through the play Hamlet.This book is a historical fiction and also has a feeling of a literary fiction. There are some wonderful descriptive passages that are really good reading. This is a slow burner that I found myself well and truly caught up in. I really enjoyed the style of the story a lot and I would definitely recommend it.
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  • Heather James
    January 1, 1970
    Hamnet is heartbreakingly beautiful. I will be thinking about this novel for a very long time. Hamnet tells the story of Shakespeare's only son, who died age eleven of unknown causes. It flows between voices and timelines effortlessly, detailing the early relationship of Hamnet's parents, the dynamics of his family life, and, once it builds to its devastating climax, the heart-wrenching impact of his death.If a reader knows what's going to happen before a story begins, there's a danger the Hamnet is heartbreakingly beautiful. I will be thinking about this novel for a very long time. Hamnet tells the story of Shakespeare's only son, who died age eleven of unknown causes. It flows between voices and timelines effortlessly, detailing the early relationship of Hamnet's parents, the dynamics of his family life, and, once it builds to its devastating climax, the heart-wrenching impact of his death.If a reader knows what's going to happen before a story begins, there's a danger the emotional impact can be dampened, but O'Farrell paints a vivid, heartbreaking picture of a family in grief. She explores the unimaginable devastation of losing a child, and the different forms grief can take. This novel brought me to tears for chapters. It explores the wonder and cruelty of life, the inconstancy of relationships and the effect our lives have on others.The backdrop of plague, the ease and yet also complexity, with which it is transmitted, is particularly poignant in our current times. The playhouses close, public gatherings are banned in London, and Shakespeare returns to Stratford to spend weeks and months with his family. The plague gives them time together, yet it also takes so much. Shakespeare doesn't explore the plague in any of his plays, and O'Farrell uses its striking absence to weave her imagining of Shakespeare and his family's life. The narrative switches between Hamnet, his siblings Judith and Susanna, his mother Agnes, his grandmother Mary and his unnamed father. For, while he is crucial to the narrative's every twist and turn, Shakespeare is referred to only as 'the tutor', 'the father' or 'the glovemaker's son'. Yet he still comes vibrantly to life. Lost in the world of his narratives, driven by love and emotion, it is an image of a mysterious historical figure that feels realistic and influenced by the few facts we do know about his life. Agnes was my favourite character. I loved the surreal, other-wordly sphere she occupied, her knowledge and use of herbal remedies, and the fierceness of her love, which brings both rapture and despair. Hamnet is superbly written, with brilliant historical details and complicated characters. It is an imagining of how one of Shakespeare's greatest works came into being and has left me desperate to read the play once more.
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  • Angela Smith
    January 1, 1970
    I love to read anything that is Shakespeare related and this didn't disappoint. Maggie O'Farrell has produced an intimate portrait of "what might have happened" Surrounding the death of Shakespeare's only son, Hamnet. We all know Anne Hathaway as Anne, but she is Agnes in this story. I was interested as to why she was called Agnes and after looking around on the internet, I found that she was named Agnes in her father's will.Anyway, the book begins with Hamnet searching through the house for I love to read anything that is Shakespeare related and this didn't disappoint. Maggie O'Farrell has produced an intimate portrait of "what might have happened" Surrounding the death of Shakespeare's only son, Hamnet. We all know Anne Hathaway as Anne, but she is Agnes in this story. I was interested as to why she was called Agnes and after looking around on the internet, I found that she was named Agnes in her father's will.Anyway, the book begins with Hamnet searching through the house for members of his family, his twin sister Judith is very ill and Hamnet is especially trying to find his mother. The story is told from many perspectives and from more than one timeline, such as the relationship of Agnes and Shakespeare and how they met as well as the state of their marriage. Agnes is a bit of a wise woman/child of nature with her ability to sense things and make ointments for the sick. However, this she did not see coming. Judith has the dreaded plague. There is a chapter that is an account of the journey of that one plague flea and how it's journey turned the fate of many. Shakespeare is not cast in the best of lights but what can you say about the brilliant playwright who abandoned his family to head for the bright lights of London and rarely came back to visit.It took me a couple of chapters to get into the style of writing but I really did enjoy the book. It had the feel of what might have been at the same time wrapped up in the rich imagination of the author. The mother's grief at the loss of her child is fully explored as she runs through the gamut of emotions of what has to be one of the worst things that could happen, the loss of a child.
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  • Jill S
    January 1, 1970
    I wasn't expecting a book to give me everything I didn't know I wanted, but here we are.Hamnet is the story of unlikely romance of Anne (called Agnes here, because it was the name her father called her) Hathaway and the Bard himself. In Part I, we switch chapters between learning about Agnes and her relationship with her husband, her in-laws, her children, and her understanding of medicinal herbs and flowers - and her slightly magical tendencies, the decision for Shakespeare to move to London to I wasn't expecting a book to give me everything I didn't know I wanted, but here we are.Hamnet is the story of unlikely romance of Anne (called Agnes here, because it was the name her father called her) Hathaway and the Bard himself. In Part I, we switch chapters between learning about Agnes and her relationship with her husband, her in-laws, her children, and her understanding of medicinal herbs and flowers - and her slightly magical tendencies, the decision for Shakespeare to move to London to begin a new career, and the days and moments leading up to Hamnet's tragic death.In Part II, O'Farrell gives us a glimpse of what grief looks like for the family in Stratford, including the writing and production of the first performance of Hamlet.For me, this book is successful in everything it tries to do. The portrait it paints of Agnes and her marriage is so realistic it feels almost as if you are reading a diary. The family characters are well rounded, fully realized, and completely leap out of history into full view. I absolutely loved the sibling relationships, and particularly the close connection between Hamnet and his twin sister Judith. The story is so perfectly crafted that by the end, you feel as if you, too, have been grieving this loss and have come to understand Shakespeare just a little bit better.This is an alternative/imagined history that makes you believe it is real, and I am flattened under the perfection of this novel.10/10, 100%, absolutely a new favourite.
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  • Lel Budge
    January 1, 1970
    Set in 1580s Warwickshire and tells the tale of Agnes.Agnes is a bit of a unique woman, she kept a Kestrel when she was young, she uses herbs for health, keeps bees and knows things about people, just by touching their hands. She has three children. Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Her husband works in London, so he is as far away from his brutal father as he can be.Young Hamnet tragically dies at only 11 years old in the time of plague.Four years later his father writes a play, Hamlet.Oh Set in 1580’s Warwickshire and tells the tale of Agnes.Agnes is a bit of a unique woman, she kept a Kestrel when she was young, she uses herbs for health, keeps bees and knows things about people, just by touching their hands. She has three children. Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Her husband works in London, so he is as far away from his brutal father as he can be.Young Hamnet tragically dies at only 11 years old in the time of plague.Four years later his father writes a play, Hamlet.Oh my, this is a beautifully written tale of loss, of grief, the heartbreak at the loss of a child. The language used is gentle and flows perfectly, giving a real sense of time and place, the emotion is palpable.This really is historical fiction at its finest and is sure to be a classic in the making and Book clubs everywhere will adore it. A truly stunning read.Thank you to Anne Cater and Random Things Tours for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour, for the promotional materials and a free copy of the book. This is my honest, unbiased review.
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  • Jenny
    January 1, 1970
    Too long. It took me three months to finish. There are flashes of great writing here and parts of the book were incredibly engaging, but its too long. Large chunks feel repetitive and extraneous to the story telling. Her editor has really let her down. Cut 25 to 40% of this book and youd have something formidable. Too long. It took me three months to finish. There are flashes of great writing here and parts of the book were incredibly engaging, but it’s too long. Large chunks feel repetitive and extraneous to the story telling. Her editor has really let her down. Cut 25 to 40% of this book and you’d have something formidable.
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  • Lady R
    January 1, 1970
    A stunning beautifully written heart-breaking novel. Believe the hype and read this!
  • Bunny21
    January 1, 1970
    I was so excited when I noticed last week that NetGalley had made this book available for request again. I almost had a party when my wish was granted and I got the chance to read one of my most anticipated books of the year. What an absolute privilege it has been to read this incredible story. It is truly the best book Maggie OFarrell has ever written and Im a huge fan, having loved her previous novels, especially The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. The scary part is now trying to do this I was so excited when I noticed last week that NetGalley had made this book available for request again. I almost had a party when my wish was granted and I got the chance to read one of my most anticipated books of the year. What an absolute privilege it has been to read this incredible story. It is truly the best book Maggie O’Farrell has ever written and I’m a huge fan, having loved her previous novels, especially The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. The scary part is now trying to do this incredible work justice in my review. Despite his place in literature as our most famous playwright, not a lot is known about Shakespeare’s life with his wife and children. Until reading this, and despite doing a module in Renaissance Literature at university, my only knowledge was of a wife called Anne Hathaway. Any other knowledge has rather embarrassingly been gleaned from Upstart Crow, which depicts his eldest daughter Susannah as an intelligent, outspoken and boy crazy teenager. I also remember a visit to Anne Hathaway’s home many years ago and being shown the outside of a picture perfect cottage. This was Hewlands where Anne was born, and after her marriage, the home of her brother Bartholomew. There has always been this hole in my knowledge, and when watching the totally inaccurate Shakespeare in Love I do remember wondering whatever happened to his wife. Did he love her and if so, how did he spend so much time away from her and their family? Also, with his success down in London, what did Anne do with her life? I wondered whether she was weighed down with the care of children, as well as her elderly in-laws with whom they lived. For the author it was a different absence that became her way into the story. She had always wondered why the Black Death or ‘pestilence’ never featured in any of Shakespeare’s works. It’s absence seemed odd, considering that, in this time period, it killed large swathes of people. From 1575 in Venice over 50,000 people died as a result of plague over two years, thought to be caused by troop movements associated with The Thirty Years War. The beautiful cathedral Santa Maria Della Salute was built after a third of the population was wiped out in a return of the plague in 1630. The city still celebrates the Festival of the Redeemer today as a thank you that the city and some of its residents survived these pandemics. In England in 1563 the plague killed 20,000 people in London alone. Historical sources cite the plague as cause of death to extended members of Shakespeare’s family and possibly his sisters. His work was also affected, with all London playhouses closed down in 1593, 1603 and 1608. However, the biggest loss of all was his only son Hamnet, who is thought to have contracted the disease and died, aged 11, in 1596. O’Farrell takes these facts as the bare bones and fleshes out a more human story, weaving the life of a boy and his family with empathy, poetry and a touch of magic. One of my favourite passages of the book focuses on the transmission of this horrific disease via some fleas and the beautiful millefiore glass beads crafted on the Venetian island of Murano. It takes accident, upon chance, and coincidence to carry the deadly disease all the way back to Stratford. A glassmaker burns his hand, so someone else packs his beads into some soft rags he finds lying around, instead of their usual packaging. A merchant ship bound for England has docked and these beads must be on it. A cabin boy from the ship searches Venice for cats to combat rats on board, when he is diverted by a monkey in a waistcoat. The monkey clings to his hair and, much to the boy’s delight, doesn’t want to let go, until his keeper roughly pulls him away. Left behind are a few fleas, some of which make their way onto new hosts in the shape of the ship’s cats. A crew member who tends to sleep with cats in his cabin doesn’t report for duty and is found to have a fever and the telltale ‘buboes’ or swelling of the lymph glands. These swellings turn black and the smell of the dead man is so repugnant that other crew members are relieved to heave him overboard for burial. He isn’t the last. Only five crew members remain as the ship docks in London and one box of beads from Murano makes its way to a Stratford dressmaker, where a customer is determined that only Murano glass beading would do for her new dress. The dressmakers assistant unpacks the beads from their ragged packaging and as she does a flea jumps from the fabric to its new host. The dressmaker’s assistant is Judith Shakespeare, Hamnet’s twin sister. This is typical of the author’s signature style of layering description to create depth and its effect is like an assault on the senses. I can smell the sweat of the glassmaker, feel the fur of the monkey, hear the creak of the boats in the canals and the shouts in the market, and feel the swell of the waves and ruts in the road as the package takes its journey, delivering both beauty and death at the same time. In one timeline Judith and then Hamnet succumb to the plague, while unwittingly the family go about their usual day. There is a clever nod to the cross dressing in Shakespeare’s comedies here in the likeness of the twins, but this is anything but funny, it’s a disguise to cheat death. As the family slowly discover what fate has in store, our timeline jumps into the past following Agnes and Hamnet’s father. Although she is more widely known as Anne, she was recorded in official records as Agnes so the author chose to stick with that name. The author always refers to him as the tutor, the husband or the father and never by name. The absence of his name creates a sense of two people; the London’s celebrity playwright and the family man. We start to see what an extraordinary woman Agnes is in her own right. The object of gossip in town, people say the daughter at Hewlands is a very singular character. She has a friend who is a priest, she has her own hawk and can charm bees. In truth she knows a lot of old country ways such as foraging, hawking and bee keeping as well as what plants to grow for household ailments. She often roams barefoot in the forest and her stepmother Joan despaired of her a long time ago. In fact, she has suffered years of psychological abuse at the hands of her stepmother who is jealous of the love her husband held for his late wife. When Agnes meets her brother’s Latin tutor, she uses her method of reading people and pinches the flesh between his thumb and forefinger. Here she sees depths and universes within, that his surface youth and inexperience didn’t even hint at. It is this promise, these unseen layers, that she falls in love with. For his part, it is her difference he finds intoxicating. He realises that he will never see another woman who walks barefoot, with lose hair and a hawk on her arm. However much they accept each other, will their families accept their choice and will those untapped depths come between them?I enjoyed the way these two timelines intersected, each informing the other and adding layers of understanding. How both families assimilated and worked together over time was really interesting. In each generation sibling relationships were particularly important, with their rivalries, but also their unspoken trusts and understandings. The idea of ‘doubling’ and disguise around siblings, especially where there are different genders such as Judith and Hamnet, makes us think again about a play like Twelfth Night. Disguise allows women to do things they would normally be excluded from and I enjoyed the industriousness of women in the novel. This wasn’t just based around domestic matters but planning and running businesses. Agnes grows medicinal plants and creates cures, with people often knocking on the door to be seen. As a country girl I also liked the depiction of her relationship with the land. When I stand on the bank of the River Trent, I feel an urge to go barefoot and ground myself. I was born there, so when I moved next to the river recently grounding and feeling the earth felt so powerful. Agnes is the same with the land at Hewlands, particularly the woods, and she chooses to give birth there to Susannah. Agnes feels cradled by the earth, it protects, cures and grounds her. She also has great ‘countrycraft’ such as being able to control bees - something I’ve seen my own father do with a swarm- there’s a practicality but also a mysticism to these abilities. Underpinning all of this, I am in love with Maggie O’Farrell’s flow. It’s a hard book to put down because it reads like one long poem to love, family, and home. Then there is the tension that comes when a member of this family follows their dream and is taken away from that unit. How does a father balance his roles as lover, son, father and still follow his dreams? Especially when those dreams are so big. When he gets that balance wrong will he be forgiven, and will he be able to forgive himself? The book is full of contrasts, from passages so vibrant and full of life, to the devastating silence of Hamnet’s loss. From birth scenes to death scenes. Wild country lanes and the leafy woods compared with the noise and enclosure of town. The routine of daily family life as opposed to a chaotic life in the theatres of London. All of these contrasts exist within one family, and no matter what we know about our most famous and celebrated playwright, this is about family. Finally, the author’s depiction of grief is so moving. Whether quiet and contained, or expressed loudly, we never doubt its devastating power. We never overlook the boy-shaped hole in the life of this family. Whether our response to grief is to run from it, distract ourselves from it or deny it, eventually we do have to go through it. In the life of this couple, will their grief be expressed differently and if so, can they ever make their way back to each other? This is a simply stunning piece of work. Moving, haunting and ultimately unforgettable
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  • EL.
    January 1, 1970
    There are so many risks picking up a beloved authors departure into a new genre. I felt it going into I Am, I Am, I Am and was blown away. I felt it coming into Hamnet and now Im convinced that historical fiction is Maggie OFarrells wheelhouse. Is there anything she cant do? William Shakespeare, usually the star of every story he appears in, takes a backseat to his magical, empathetic and vivid wife Agnes. OFarrells ability to take the few facts we have about Agnes Hathaway and weave such a There are so many risks picking up a beloved author’s ‘departure’ into a new genre. I felt it going into I Am, I Am, I Am and was blown away. I felt it coming into Hamnet and now I’m convinced that historical fiction is Maggie O’Farrell’s wheelhouse. Is there anything she can’t do? William Shakespeare, usually the star of every story he appears in, takes a backseat to his magical, empathetic and vivid wife Agnes. O’Farrell’s ability to take the few facts we have about Agnes Hathaway and weave such a magnificent tale is astounding. I will hold Agnes close to my heart forever more, snuggled between Patroclus and Josephine Bonaparte on my shelf of fictionalized favorites. Do yourself a favor and put this at the top of your TBR, you can thank me later.
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  • Alan
    January 1, 1970
    'And there, by the fire, held in the arms of his mother, in the room in which he learnt to crawl, to eat, to walk, to speak, Hamnet takes his last breath. He draws it in, he lets it out. Then there is silence, stillness. Nothing more.'In the year that we get the last volume of Hilary Mantel's trilogy, I asked myself when I approached this new novel by Maggie O'Farrell: 'is there room for another historical novel set in the 16th century, a fictionalised account of a real historical character, and 'And there, by the fire, held in the arms of his mother, in the room in which he learnt to crawl, to eat, to walk, to speak, Hamnet takes his last breath. He draws it in, he lets it out. Then there is silence, stillness. Nothing more.'In the year that we get the last volume of Hilary Mantel's trilogy, I asked myself when I approached this new novel by Maggie O'Farrell: 'is there room for another historical novel set in the 16th century, a fictionalised account of a real historical character, and especially another one written in the present tense?' I have to admit I fully expected to stumble across a sentence starting 'he, Cromwell...' (actually, there are a couple of similar examples where we get a line such as: 'She sees how she, Agnes, must remain calm'). Hmm, I thought, is this just Mantel-lite? And whilst it does take a little time, for anyone familiar with the 'other' books, as it were, to stop hearing that voice in your head as you read, suddenly, about half way through, all I could hear were the characters conjured up by O'Farrell. And I was hooked.How did Shakespeare come to write a play called 'Hamlet', a name inter-changeable with that of his dead son Hamnet? And how did the women in his life - his wife, commonly known as Anne but probably actually called Agnes, and his daughters Susanna and Judith (Hamnet's twin sister) - cope with this family tragedy? From these questions, O'Farrell weaves a compelling and profoundly moving study of family life, of loss and profound grief. The character of Agnes is central to the book, a slightly mystical character, perhaps with strange powers of possible witchcraft, but a loving mother and wife having to cope with raising a family whilst her husband tries to build a career in London. The household, and the various other family members, are wonderfully brought to life, and O'Farrell possesses a genuine ability to highlight details, moments of time, which are so imbued with meaning and beauty. The prose is sublime:'And now the moment has arrived. Agnes conjugates it: he is going, he will be gone, he will go.'or:'The hedgerows are constellations, studded with fire-red hips.'As the time-frame shifts, we move from the present, and the run up to the death of Hamnet, to the past, and the courtship and early years of marriage of 'the husband' (note, he is never named in the book) and Agnes. And then we move forward in time, to the years after the child's death, and the performance of a new play in London called 'Hamlet'. This is a genuinely wonderful book. For something to so completely win me over after my initial reservations tells me so. I have not ready any of Maggie O'Farrell's previous works, so I am not in a position to say that this foray by her into historical fiction is representative of her work or not. What it is, however, is a genuinely moving and lyrical meditation on grief, where the sense of loss is palpable but never overwrought. And in Agnes we have a wonderfully human central character. It may have its basis in fact or not, but this is fiction, and it is a triumph.
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  • Callum McLaughlin
    January 1, 1970
    In a bold departure from her previous work, OFarrell attempts to paint a portrait of the relationship between William Shakespeare and his wife, particularly concerning the death of their 11-year-old son.Its important to note that the names Hamnet and Hamlet were entirely interchangeable in Shakespeares day, and so the primary question OFarrell concerns herself with is why The Bard chose to name that particular play/character after his deceased son. The second (and most interesting) thing to note In a bold departure from her previous work, O’Farrell attempts to paint a portrait of the relationship between William Shakespeare and his wife, particularly concerning the death of their 11-year-old son.It’s important to note that the names Hamnet and Hamlet were entirely interchangeable in Shakespeare’s day, and so the primary question O’Farrell concerns herself with is why The Bard chose to name that particular play/character after his deceased son. The second (and most interesting) thing to note is that Shakespeare is never actually named throughout the novel. By only ever referring to him based on his various roles in life and relationships to others (the son, the husband, the tutor, the father) O’Farrell cleverly accomplishes two things: Firstly, she humanises the myth, reminding us that Shakespeare was much more than just a writer; he was a man who endured the same hardships and cherished the same things as everyone else. Secondly, she vindicates his wife and children, allowing them to take the spotlight for once, subverting the norm of having them defined solely by their connection to him.With little detail known about Shakespeare’s wife (now believed to have been named Agnes, rather than Anne) or the death of their son, O’Farrell does a great job of breathing life and emotion into their story. I have to say, however, that the narrative structure and pacing didn’t entirely work for me. The first two thirds of the novel are split into a dual timeline, jumping between the early courtship of Shakespeare and Agnes, and the events years later that lead up to Hamnet’s inevitable death. This nonlinearity added nothing for me, and there’s an oddly drawn out attempt at misdirection regarding the fate of Hamnet and his twin sister that felt redundant given both the book’s blurb, and the story’s real-life historical basis.Initially, I also felt O’Farrell’s prose was somewhat laboured; the push for a rich, evocative feel coming off as overwritten. Whether she found her stride with the historical setting, or whether I simply got sufficiently drawn in for it to stop bothering me, this problem did lessen as the novel progressed. Where the book excelled unwaveringly, however, was its eventual portrayal of a family blindsided by grief. She captures their bewilderment as individuals and as a unit with real fervour.It’s a daring move for any writer to tackle the intimate life of the writer, and whilst I certainly found it compelling, I do think it ultimately failed to stick a proper landing. O’Farrell clearly undertook this novel with the aim of answering key questions about Shakespeare and his family, but the attempt at a revelatory denouement felt both hurried and underwhelming, proving why those questions have remained unanswered for so long. Still, it’s a book I had high expectations for, and despite feeling it didn’t quite capitalise on its full potential, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with it.Thank you to the publisher for an advanced copy via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Linda Hill
    January 1, 1970
    An imagined story of Shakespeares son Hamnet.Where on earth do I begin to review Hamnet? This is one of those books that defy the reader because it is so brilliant, so moving and so wonderful that all the usual adjectives and superlatives feel jaded, hackneyed and inadequate in response.Maggie OFarrells mesmerising prose has a luminous beauty that feels almost ethereal, whilst at the same time being grounded in very human senses. Her descriptions are exquisite, transporting the reader to the An imagined story of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet.Where on earth do I begin to review Hamnet? This is one of those books that defy the reader because it is so brilliant, so moving and so wonderful that all the usual adjectives and superlatives feel jaded, hackneyed and inadequate in response.Maggie O’Farrell’s mesmerising prose has a luminous beauty that feels almost ethereal, whilst at the same time being grounded in very human senses. Her descriptions are exquisite, transporting the reader to the late 1500s with vivid clarity, complete depth and authenticity alongside a lightness of touch that is breathtaking. Some of the seamless similes and metaphors literally made me gasp aloud. As I read I could feel a tangible tenderness in the writing that touched me completely. I adored too, the occasional oblique references to Shakespeare’s writing that are slipped in, making Hamnet feel connected through time and space to Hamlet and Shakespeare himself. Indeed, that is one of the huge successes of Hamnet as we see how humanity is linked in minute ways that have profound impact, so that it doesn’t matter whether a reader knows anything about the playwright or his plays to enjoy this story completely.Whilst Hamnet is the protagonist and catalyst for the narrative, this is very much Agnes’s story. I loved the fact that Shakespeare himself is referred to as ‘the son’, ‘the father’, ‘the husband’ so that Maggie O’Farrell has inverted the concept of history, making Hamnet very much her-story, with Agnes at the heart. And what a character Agnes is. She is the very embodiment of universal womanhood, of her era and of human emotion. Agnes can hate as well as love, control as well as comply, create as well as destroy so that she feels pulsatingly real. Both mystical and earthly, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a character quite like her. I lived alongside Agnes rather than read about her because she felt so alive.The other people in the pages of Hamnet are equally vivid and realistic. I often found I had quite strong emotional responses to them so that I experienced pure, unselfish love, strong dislike and all consuming grief particularly powerfully. I wept on more than one occasion as I read. As the captivating plot unfolds, each person is revealed with increasing clarity so that they mattered to me as much as any real people.Character, setting and sublime writing aside, Hamnet is a cracking story. The narrative ebbs and flows with history, peril, love and events that sweep the reader along. I weas utterly mesmerised.Hamnet is a book that feels absorbed by the reader’s soul rather than read. I am in awe of Maggie O’Farrell’s writing talent and feel privileged to have read Hamnet. Don’t miss it.
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  • Agi
    January 1, 1970
    "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 "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!Copy provided by the publisher in return for an honest review.
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