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.
I’m always looking for books fiction and nonfiction that focus on the women we seem to have neglected to focus on throughout history. Anne Hathaway is certainly one woman, she’s quite absent in history really, no one knows much of her, but O’Farrell tackles her story in this novel.
This is also though the story of Anne/Agnes and Shakespeare, and their children, and the loss of Hamnet, their only son.
In real life, we don’t really know Hamnet’s cause of death but the black plague is an excellent guess given the time period.
It’s nice to see love injected into this marriage, as, given the history, there’s no information and the little we do have doesn’t point to a marriage of love, at least not with never knowing if Shakespeare was ‘forced’ into the marriage by impregnating Anne, or if the love survived the distance. [I mean we do know that Shakespeare was definitely a player lol]
I loved the lush descriptions of the countryside of Stratford and even the home they live in. It’s such a picturesque read and that was a really enjoyable part for me.
Agnes is a fully fleshed-out character, mystical and whimsical, full of life and vibrant to the point that she just seems to roll off the page.
I also adored Hamnet, so, of course, his death is even more heartbreaking.
Though there is so much to love, the best way for me to enjoy this book was to not connect it to Shakespeare. Agnes was much too mystical in that it took on a supernatural tone that I didn’t think fit her as a historical woman, she was enough on her own without feelings of illnesses and people.
I also found it hard to believe that this was a marriage between Shakespeare and Hathaway, and Shakespeare was a bit too loving and doting. [I feel that historically he was just not a good husband lol]
So, when I tried to think of it as a story of a marriage that suffered a loss of a child, and the story of a woman ahead of her time, I enjoyed it more.
The second half of the book is very disjointed and in fact, there’s technically only one ‘chapter’/section for it, so that was a bit at odds with the first half, but, again, still enjoyable!
Three and a half cups of coffee from me, thank you so much to Anne and TinderPress for an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion as part of this tour.
Definitely a great read for those who love historical fiction!
About the Author
Maggie O’Farrell (born 1972, Coleraine Northern Ireland) is a British author of contemporary fiction, who features in Waterstones’ 25 Authors for the Future. It is possible to identify several common themes in her novels – the relationship between sisters is one, another is loss and the psychological impact of those losses on the lives of her characters.
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