I have been waiting to read Hamnet from the moment I first noticed the amazing cover and read the blurb. Whoever designed the beautiful cover art – Well done! It is gorgeous.
So when Anne created the blog tour – all within a very short space of time I was delighted to be included. There are a lot of books being released in this very uncertain period of time and if I can help share a bit of #booklove I will.
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 11. 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.
This is not a novel about Shakespeare – I know I fell into the trap of thinking it was. But Hamnet is a book about his wife and children. Shakespeare is there – of course he is. Although he is never mentioned by name. I hope I haven’t confused you because I assure you the book isn’t confusing. It is a novel in which the female, lesser known characters shine the brightest.
It is beautifully written. Well-paced. And the characters are all clear and well imagined. Maggie O’Farrell writes with an effortless grace.
I loved the dual time frames – we get a glimpse into the early love affair and marriage of Shakespeare and Agnes as well as following their story in a future point after they are married with almost adolescent children. Both timelines are fascinating.
From what I understand (someone may be able to correct me?), but there is not much historically known about Shakespeare’s personal life and it is in that space that Maggie O’Farrell writes her story. But it is clear from the setting, the small touches and the details that Maggie O’Farrell has done her research. A lot of research. Her knowledge brings a richness to her writing that lifts it rather than makes if clunky or fact heavy. It’s a balance that works.
I will admit to the one small niggle of slightly disliking the mystical/magical elements of Agnes knowledge and family heritage. I just felt that it was there to add a bit of flare – probably just a reflection of my own personal tastes. I didn’t always enjoy it when Phillipa Gregory did something similar and added mystical abilities to her characters – I am mainly thinking of The Lady of the Rivers .
I completely understand why this has been Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 – it is a special book. A memorable read. And a novel worthy of winning, but it is up against some tough competition this year!
I feel the need to hang my head in shame when I write – Hamnet is my first book by Maggie O’Farrell. I plan on correcting that and I am sure Hamnet won’t be the last book of hers I read. In fact, I have added ALL of her back catalogue on to my forever growing wishlist. I am pleased to have discovered a new favourite author.
I cannot yet comment on the final resolution of the novel as I still have a few pages left to read. With life being the crazy whirlwind it is right now, my reading and blogging time have been impacted. I am very much looking forward to making a cup of tea and curling up with the remainder of Maggie O’Farrell’s masterpiece later this evening. I can’t imagine that the ending will be anything other than satisfying but if it is, I will report back.
Have you read Hamnet? Do you want too?
I received a copy of Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell for review from the publisher, via the blog tour organiser – Thank you!