A stunning new departure for Maggie O’Farrell’s fiction, Hamnet is the heart-stopping story behind Shakespeare’s most famous play.
On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?
Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.
Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; a flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
Published by Tinder Press on 31st March 2020, 352 Pages
This is the story of Shakespeare’s wife, her past, how she became his wife, the story of their children and how they contracted the plague.
This story shines a light on one of the many forgotten women in history and I love the way it flips history on its head to make Shakespeare the inconsequential character, so much so that he is never even named within the book, instead he is referred to as brother, husband, father etc.
It is the story of grief told in the most, raw, descriptive lyrical style steeped in copious period detail. The tale of passage of the flea that brought the disease to the family was utterly captivating. I will not be able to hear of Hamlet without thinking of this tale now.
O’Farrell has a magical way with words, she completely transported me in the time and life of her characters and the way she writes maternal love (in this and in her memoir, I am Iam I am) is incredible! This was a fantastic piece of historical fiction and I would be very surprised if it didn’t make the women’s prize short list.
Thanks to @annecater and @TinderPress for my #gifted copy in exchange for review.
Maggie O’Farrell is the author of seven novels, AFTER YOU’D GONE, MY LOVER’S LOVER, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX, THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, and THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award. Maggie has also written a memoir, I AM, I AM, I AM. She lives in Edinburgh.