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Hamnet: THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER (edition 2020)

by Maggie O'Farrell (Author)

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1548127,582 (4.39)41
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 vindication of Agnes, a woman intriguingly absent from history.… (more)
Authors:Maggie O'Farrell (Author)
Info:Tinder Press (2020), 384 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:historical fiction. William Shakespeare, Anne Hathaway, literary fiction, grief

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Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell



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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Hamnet is a beautifully told story , lyrical and detailed. The title is somewhat misleading , as most of all, this is the story of Agnes, the wife of William Shakespeare. Not much is known about the life of William Shakespeare, and his family, but Maggie O'Farrell takes what is known and creates a fictionalized version of their lives . It is focused on his family, rather than his life as a playwright. In fact, William Shakespeare is never named in the book, but goes by " the Latin Tutor" , " her husband" or ' the father." The story is told in two timelines, beginning with young Hamnet seeking out his mother , or some family member as his twin sister Judith is very ill. It then moves to the time that Agnes and William met. Agnes is a fascinating, somewhat other- worldly person. She is a gifted herbalist and somewhat intuitive of others. Others are wary of her. This is both a story of love between Agnes and William, as well their three children, Susanna , and twins Hamnet and Judith, and the grief that threatens to tear the family apart.

A beautiful, tender tale .

Five stars and highly recommended ( )
  vancouverdeb | Jul 2, 2020 |
‘’Then Judith is in a crowd. It is night- time, cold; the glow of lanterns punctuates the freezing dark. She thinks it is the Candlemas fair. She is in and also above a crowd on a pair of strong shoulders. Her father. Her legs grip his neck and he holds her by each ankle; she has buried her hands in his hair. Thick dark hair he has like Susanna’s. She uses the smallest of her fingers to tap the silver hoop in his left ear. He laughs at this - she feels the rumble of it, like thunder, pass from his body to hers - and shakes his head to make the earring rattle against her fingernail.’’

The frantic steps of a young boy disturb the peaceful summer day in a town in Warwickshire. His house echoes his almost erratic search for any member of his family. But the house is empty. His parents nowhere to be found. He begs the dusty roads of the village to bring him help because his beloved twin sister is dying. He begs Fate to exorcise the Black Rider who has decided to reside in their house, looking for a victim to snatch.

‘’The Latin verbs roll on and on around him, like a fenland fog, through his feet up and over his shoulders, past his ears, to seep out of the cracks in the window lead. He allows the chanted words to merge into an oral blur that fills the room, right to its high, blackened rafters.’’

Dear God, what a masterpiece!

When every ‘’writer’’ who wants to pass Historical Romance scribbles as ‘’Literature’’, when ridiculous plays and even more ridiculous film dare to meddle with the Bard and especially with his wife’s enigmatic figure, one can’t help being apprehensive. But not when you are in the gracious, blessed hands of Maggie O’Farrell. What can I possibly say about Hamnet? An ode to womanhood, motherhood, family and the fragility of daily life that should never be taken for granted.

‘’The trees could be seen from the back windows, tossing their restless heads on windy days, shaking their bare and twisted fists in winter.’’

O’Farrell brings us the tragic story of Shakespeare’s family, focused on his son and his wife, two incredible characters. Her writing is quiet, mystifying, haunting. A breath of a hazy, lyrical summer and the sadness of golden autumn. There is beauty and there are pain and Death. Physical loss and the thwarting of the dreams of youth. The loss of faith and the unimaginable horror of losing a child. Hamnet is rich in literary beauty and O’Farrell inserts brief, poignant scenes that define the tone and the spirit of the story. The terrifying figure of the Plague Doctor, a woman’s unbreakable bond with Nature, William’s wanderlust, the sequence of the coming of the pestilence in Warwickshire, a brother’s ache for his sister’s ordeal, a mother’s despair, a father’s helplessness, the cries for a ghost of a beloved presence.

‘’She has a certain notoriety in these parts. It is said that she is strange, touched, peculiar, perhaps mad. He has heard that she wanders the back roads and forest at will, unaccompanied, collecting plants to make dubious potions.’’

Perhaps the most demanding aspect in this novel is the characterization and O’Farrell creates wonders. Agnes (see the moving Author’s Note that clarifies why ‘’Anne’’ became ‘’Agnes’’) is an extraordinary character. Intelligent, brave, sensitive, deeply connected with Nature, firm in her beliefs. William is a gentle man, trying to balance his love for her and his calling. Hamnet is one of the most moving, developed and memorable characters. His pain and sense of helplessness and the fact that we know his fate will break your heart. His sisters, Susanna and Judith, are equally enchanting and beautifully drawn.

‘’I’ll walk backwards,’’ he says, backing away, ‘’so I can keep you in my sights.’’
‘’All the way to London?’’
‘’If I have to.’’
She laughs. ‘’You’ll fall into a ditch. You’ll crash into a cart.’’
‘’So be it.’’

It is said that this tragic loss was the driving force behind the creation of Hamlet. The Bard would be proud of Maggie O’Farrell’s masterpiece. And I don’t need to tire you more. The following extracts speak for themselves.

‘’Summer is an assault. The long evenings, the warm air wafting through the windows, the slow progress of the river through the windows, the slow progress of the river through the town, the shouts of children playing late in the street, the horses flicking floes from their flanks, the hedgerows heavy with flowers and berries.’’

‘’Autumn, when it comes, is terrible too. The sharpness on the air, early in the morning. The mist gathering in the yard. The hens fussing and murmuring in their pen, refusing to come out. The leaves crisping at their edges. Here is a season Hamnet has not known or touched. Here is a world moving without him’’

‘’Night-time in the town, a deep, black silence lies over the streets, broken only by the hollow lilt of an owl, calling for its mate. A breeze slips invisibly, insistently through the streets, like a burglar seeking an entrance. It plays with the tops of the trees, tipping them one way, then the other. It shivers inside the church bell, making the brass vibrate with a single low note. It ruffles the feathers of the lonely owl, sitting on a rooftop near the church.’’

Many thanks to Knopf Publishing Group and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com/ ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jun 28, 2020 |
DNF @ 20%

I have issues with historical fiction, but that was not my main issue here. My main issue was the writing.

If I'm 20% into the book, I should be hooked or loving the language, or be interested in any of the characters.

I should not have to wince at over-written descriptions, try to remember which character we're talking about, or be annoyed by a precocious child who just declared herself an atheist sometime in the 80s. The 1580s.

I'll be giving this one a miss.
  BrokenTune | Jun 9, 2020 |
When the browbeaten son of a bullying glovemaker and the wild daughter of a farmer meet they are overcome with passion and their families force them to marry. Several years and three children later Agnes is still a wise woman and has her ways whereas her husband is based in London, making money and making a name for himself in the theatres. When Judith, one of the twins, falls ill her brother Hamnet searches for his family but only he can save his sister.
This is a wonderful book telling the story of a marriage and a love for family that transcends its setting. Yes, it is based on Shakespeare's family and the inspiration behind Hamlet the play but really this is a story of love. The writing is sublime in places, the section on the way the plague travels to Stratford is writing sparingly but with great intensity and the way Hamnet dies is written with such tenderness. I loved this book! ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Apr 10, 2020 |
Hamnet is one of the most highly anticipated reads of 2020, for me and for lots of other readers. After reading it, I can see why. It's quite spectacular. I love Maggie O'Farrell's writing anyway but she's written something so completely immersive with Hamnet.

Hamnet was the son of William Shakespeare and Agnes (prounced Agn-yez). He was also the younger sibling of Susanna and twin of Judith. The story here has two strands running through it. One looks at Hamnet and his life at the age of 11. The other focuses on how William and Agnes met and started their life together. However, this is not a novel about Shakespeare, not really. He's a secondary character to Agnes, who is so fully formed and so beautifully portrayed that I felt an affinity with her and a real sense of who she was. I particularly enjoyed her otherworldliness, her way of intuiting the past and the future, her way with herbs and potions. She's just so interesting.

This story is wonderfully atmospheric. It's historical fiction but written with that contemporary edge to the language that makes it so accessible. I really could put myself in 16th century Stratford and London. In fact, this book gave me more of an insight into Shakespeare, his family and his work than anything else that I've read or seen. I've no doubt O'Farrell has fictionalised a fair amount but I'm sure just as much is based around what is known and I very much got the feeling she had done a great deal of research. In particular, I thought she captured very well the properties where Shakespeare and Agnes had grown up, lived and worked.

Ultimately this is a story of grief and I found it absolutely heartbreaking. Tears were shed. The loss of a child is so intensely moving and written with such empathy that it was impossible not to feel despair along with the characters, especially Agnes and Judith.

Hamnet is not a book that I was able to rush, in fact it took me probably twice as long as a book that size would normally take, but I'm pleased I was able to take my time and savour it at the pace it deserved. It's absolutely wonderful. ( )
  nicx27 | Apr 1, 2020 |
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He is dead and gone, lady, He is dead and gone; At his head a grass-green turf, At his heals 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 ( 21 October 2004)
For Will,
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A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.
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