The title of Hamnet refers to William Shakespeare’s son, who died as a child and may have served as the inspiration for Hamlet. However, Shakespeare himself is not the main character of this novel, and is never even referred to by name. Instead, Shakespeare’s wife Agnes (commonly known as Anne) is the main character of this story. She is a fascinating character, and the book follows her as a young woman into adulthood, as she fights against society’s expectations, marries, and becomes a mother. I have loved all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books, and this was no exception.
Hamnet was recently awarded the UK’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
“Magnificent and searing… A family saga so bursting with life, touched by magic, and anchored in affection that I only wish it were true. Of all the stories that argue and speculate about Shakespeare’s life, about whether he even wrote his own plays, here is a novel that matches him with a woman overwhelmingly more than worthy… I nearly drowned at the end of this book, and at some other spots besides. It would be wise to keep some tissues handy… So gorgeously written that it transports you from our own plague time right into another and makes you glad to be there.”
—The Boston Globe
“This striking, painfully lovely novel captures the very nature of grief.”—Booklist [starred review]
“A tour de force…Although more than 400 years have unspooled since Hamnet Shakespeare’s death, the story O’Farrell weaves in this moving novel is timeless and ever-relevant… O’Farrell brilliantly turns to historical fiction to confront a parent’s worst nightmare: the death of a child…Hamnet vividly captures the life-changing intensity of maternity in its myriad stages — from the pain of childbirth to the unassuagable grief of loss. Fierce emotions and lyrical prose are what we’ve come to expect of O’Farrell. But with this historical novel she has expanded her repertoire, enriching her narrative with atmospheric details of the sights, smells, and relentless daily toil involved in running a household in Elizabethan England — a domestic arena in which a few missing menstrual rags on washday is enough to alarm a mother of girls.”–NPR