Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?
Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.
Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
In my younger days I became fascinated by William Shakespeare and his plays and sonnets. I have been lucky to have been to the Globe on London’s South side of the River Thames number of times. One of my favourite writers has written an intimate historical novel based on one of Shakespeare’s sons. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press) is released on 31st March.
Hamnet born to William Shakespeare and his wife Agnes (Anne Hathaway) and the twin of Judith in the year 1585. One thing I will say here for Shakespeare aficionados is that this is a fictional account of the family life of the Shakespeare’s not so much about the man himself and his wife Agnes takes centre stage through the novel.
As the story opens with the young Hamnet in the house seemingly alone with his sister Judith in bed and is very poorly. Hamnet is searching for someone in his mother Agnes. Agnes is out in the fields. The story tells of how Agnes and William first met and their humble beginnings as married couple and how the couple spent time apart as William was in London trying to earn a living and Agnes was at home expecting twins.
Hamnet dies at the age of 11 at a time when a third of all children died before they reached the age of ten. It is suggested in further readings that Hamnet may have died from the bubonic plague and the plague itself takes a major part of the novel.
The effect of Hamnet’s death at such a young age has a devastating effect on the family. This is a heartbreaking story so tenderly told by Maggie O’Farrell. Losing a loved creates a feeling like the walls of life are closing in and a claustrophobic feeling and the feeling of loss never leaves as you and this comes through the storyline.
There are many characters that O’Farrell brings into the story and each has their own life that only O’Farrell can bring into her books. Even the everyday life of the people of Stratford-upon-Avon is beautifully told. There are many who question whether the death of Hamnet was when Shakespeare then wrote his play Hamlet this will be talked about but either way this is without doubt Maggie O’Farrell’s finest novel to-date and one I loved reading. I have thought a lot about Hamnet since I have read O’Farrell’s historical novel. Many might be put off because it has the ‘Shakespeare’ tag but I would highly recommend this book to anyone.
Thank you to Georgina Moore (Midas PR) for the review copy of Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is published by Tinder Press 31st March on 2020 and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.