I read Hamnet back in April for my university book club read and loved the discussion of it. I knew I had to write a full review for it on my blog. So here is my full, albeit belated review of Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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 by Maggie O’Farrell won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020 and I can completely see why! When I saw this book on Waterstones, the first thing I thought was Shakespeare. I am a big Shakespeare fan, and I was lucky to study a full module at university on his work, with Hamlet being one of my favourite plays. However, I was so wrong to assume that this book is about the bard…and I’m actually happy about it.
This story is a fictional retelling about the death of Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son who died in 1596 and the effects loss has on a family. O’Farrell beautifully crafts a powerful story about the importance of love, family, and the special bonds that twins share.
“Every life has its kernel, its hub, its epicentre, from which everything flows out, to which everything returns”
There is a tenderness in the novel and that’s reflected in the character of Agnes, Shakespeare’s wife. We follow their courtship, marriage, life together and also their grief over the loss of their son. I particularly loved how the book is Agnes’s story, how we follow her through life as an outcasted and reclusive being, to a mother who grieves the death of her son. It is so interesting that Shakespeare is never actually mentioned by name, which again makes it solely Agnes’s story which I really appreciated. It is a heartbreakingly raw and honest fusion about the special bonds that hold us together and I think that because it is Agnes’s story, it makes it even more heartfelt.
“Time only runs away”
The book is almost like a collage, with O’Farrell building layer upon layer of fragments of what it means to love and how it feels to grieve. They become an amalgamation of gentleness and warmth, from the creation of a rural landscape of Stratford in the 16th century, to the special bond between twins.
This was initially a five-star read, but I felt like it lost its way at the very end. That being said, it was an amazing read, and I would highly recommend this if you love literary fiction!
Rating – ★★★★.5