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Hamnet (2020)

by Maggie O'Farrell

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,3222262,698 (4.18)1 / 500
"A thrilling departure: a short, piercing, deeply moving novel about the death of Shakespeare's 11 year old son Hamnet--a name interchangeable with Hamlet in 15th century Britain--and the years leading up to the production of his great play. England, 1580. A young Latin tutor--penniless, bullied by a violent father--falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman--a wild creature who walks her family's estate with a falcon on her shoulder and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer. Agnes understands plants and potions better than she does people, but once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose gifts as a writer are just beginning to awaken when his beloved young son succumbs to bubonic plague. A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a hypnotic recreation of the story that inspired one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, Hamnet is mesmerizing, seductive, impossible to put down--a magnificent departure from one of our most gifted novelists"--… (more)
  1. 20
    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (vwinsloe)
    vwinsloe: Historical fiction that is even more about the plague, and equally compelling.
  2. 10
    The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (Micheller7)
  3. 00
    Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (Ciruelo)
  4. 00
    Saturn by Jacek Dehnel (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: Biografien - Shakespeare und Goya - aus der Sicht von Ehefrau und Kindern erzählt.
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 Club Read 2023: Group Read: Hamnet20 unread / 20cushlareads, February 2023

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Showing 1-5 of 213 (next | show all)
Shakespeare as a Family Man?

I enjoyed this imagining of Shakespeare as a husband and father. The author takes what is known about Shakespeare's family and builds a backstory for his life. In doing so, O'Farrell puts Shakespeare in the background. The story mostly focuses on his wife and to a lesser extent, his children.
One of the main themes are independence, for Shakespeare, this means getting out from under his father's thumb. For Agnes, it means keeping her mother's traditions as a healer. Another very important theme is loss and grief...as both Shakespeare and Agnes both struggle with the loss of Hamnet.
4 stars: The only criticism of the story is the portrayal of Agnes as a proto feminist nature healer. While it did added to the theme of independence, this trope is over used. ( )
  Chrissylou62 | Apr 11, 2024 |
O'Farrell seems to pick just the right words for everything in this book. She truly draws you into this world of 16th Century England and the dealings of the bard's family. She never uses his name, which took me a minute to get used to ... but once I did, I was in. I get it, it's not a story about him, it's about his family and one tragic incident. Note: this is a work of fiction based on some scant historical details. At any rate, this is a beautiful story that was compelling, heart-breaking, and just lovely all at the same time. ( )
  teejayhanton | Mar 22, 2024 |
This novel was at the top of my reading list for quite a while, but I was reluctant to start reading it. Something about it being about Shakespeare (even if his role in this is not central) created a certain expectation that was putting me off. It proved to be completely wrong.

This was such an enjoyable book in a literary sense (emotionally, it was gut-wrenching).
The words flew off the pages so naturally. For a story centred around grief (with some extraordinary passages on it), there was a strange fairytale-like lightness to it.

The character of Agnes was written especially well. I loved the way certain things were portrayed with a touch of almost magical realism. It helped transport me back in time. But, unlike "regular" historical fiction, where the setting rules over everything else, this is a universal story of loss. Having a famous historical figure among the characters, unnamed, just made it more intriguing.


( )
1 vote ZeljanaMaricFerli | Mar 4, 2024 |
I hated this book. Such one-dimensional characters (and way too many characters, too). Shakespeare's abusive father John is all bad. Agnes' stepmother Joan is all bad; no drop of affection whatsoever for two children she raised from babies. Shakespeare's mother Mary is a dolt; I never thought less of the two main characters, with whom we're supposed to feel sympathy, than when they literally laughed at Mary behind her back for being upset that her son was moving to London.

A couple of the characters see Agnes not as a mysterious woodsprite but as an imbecile. I thought it was an interesting perspective and chose to see her this way through the remainder of the book, which helped me get through it.

And hate it I did! I wanted them all to get the plague. ( )
  Tytania | Mar 1, 2024 |
wellllllllllll it's not that it's bad because it certainly isn't Bad, it's very good, but it does just barely miss the mark? ( )
  gojosatoru98 | Mar 1, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 213 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone;
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a stone. 

Hamlet, Act IV, scene v
Hamnet and Hamlet are in fact the same name, entirely interchangeable in Stratford records in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

—Steven Greenblatt, "The Death of Hamnet and the Making of Hamlet," New York Review of Books (October 21, 2004)
I am dead:
Thou livest;
. . . draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story

      —Hamlet, Act V, scene ii
Dedication
To Will
First words
A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.
Un niño baja unas escaleras
Quotations
Agnes believes her position, as new daughter-in-law, to be ambiguous, somewhere between apprentice and hen.
The branches of the forest are so dense you cannot feel the rain.
There will be no going back. No undoing of what was laid out for them. The boy has gone and the husband will leave and she will stay and the pigs will need to be fed every day and time runs only one way.
What is the word, Judith asks her mother, for someone who was a twin but is no longer a twin?
... If you were a wife , Judith continues, and your husband dies, then you are a widow. And if its parents die, a child becomes an orphan. But what is the word for what I am? ... Maybe there isn't one, she suggests.
Maybe not, says her mother.
She will take a person for who they are, not what they are not or ought to be. (21 %)
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"A thrilling departure: a short, piercing, deeply moving novel about the death of Shakespeare's 11 year old son Hamnet--a name interchangeable with Hamlet in 15th century Britain--and the years leading up to the production of his great play. England, 1580. A young Latin tutor--penniless, bullied by a violent father--falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman--a wild creature who walks her family's estate with a falcon on her shoulder and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer. Agnes understands plants and potions better than she does people, but once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose gifts as a writer are just beginning to awaken when his beloved young son succumbs to bubonic plague. A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a hypnotic recreation of the story that inspired one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, Hamnet is mesmerizing, seductive, impossible to put down--a magnificent departure from one of our most gifted novelists"--

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