Hamnet ~ by Maggie O’Farrell

This came out a few years ago but I dragged my feet so other books got in the way.  But it was available at the library the other day so I snatched it.  Yay me! I read and very much enjoyed this although I encountered some difficult parts.  It’s not a biography nor does it pretend to be.  O’Farrell did considerable research though and it was nominated for the 2021 Walter Scott award for historical fiction, among other prizes. 

by Maggie O’Farrell

2020 / (321 pages)
Read by Ell Potter 12h 42m
Rating 9 / historical fiction 

The tale is that of a family with 11-year old twins of which the boy dies during the time of the Black Plague in England. The whole title is, “Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague” and the Dedication reads “To Will.” Hamnet/Hamlet died in 1596.

In the 1580s a couple living in Stratford,  had 3 children including a set of twins.  The boy died in 1596 at age 11.  Four years later the father wrote a play called Hamlet which was staged by 1601. The names Hamnet and Hamlet were interchangeable in that day and place or so says Steven Greenblatt – renowned Shakespeare scholar (whose books I’ve actually read). Very little is known about Shakespeare and his family life, but his name does come up in the Stratford documents and that’s about all we really know.  O’Farrell pretty much invented the rest of the novel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare.
I’ve read very different inventions of Shakespeare’s life.  

This story has three (or more) separate timelines plus backstories so it’s easy to get confused. It all comes together about 2/3 of the book.  

Above all, this is a story of deep grief. A beloved boy is dead and how do those who loved him get over that? The characters are wonderfully well developed, the setting is bucolic if not particularly atmospheric, and the plot, although slow, is compelling. It’s the writing which stands out. The language and the cadence are pitch perfect.  The narrator does it all justice.  


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2 Responses to Hamnet ~ by Maggie O’Farrell

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    I must read this, I really must!


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