Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

 Hamnet cover

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell hops around a bit time wise but not in a confusing way, I really enjoyed it.

The tale begins in 1596 with young Hamnet searching the house, looking for an adult to help him, but the usually bustling household is empty, just when he needs them most. His twin Judith feels so ill that she’s gone to her bed and he’s desperate for their mother’s help as she is a herbalist, and a bit of a white witch as far as some people are concerned.

Then the story flits back fifteen years to the Spring when Shakespeare met his wife at Hewlands, the family farm. They were both leading unhappy lives, William’s father was a violent bully who took most of his rage out on William, and Agnes (known better to us all as Anne Hathaway) was living with her step-mother and a houseful of half siblings. It hadn’t been too awful when her father was alive but life had become miserable since his death. The two were drawn to one another when William’s father ordered him to tutor some of Agnes’s half brothers, to help pay back debts. Agnes and William would become each other’s escape route – or so they thought.

Considering that such a lot of Shakespeare’s life is a complete mystery I think the author made a good job of filling in the gaps in a feasible way, and she neatly tied up the speculation over his will and that second best bed left to his wife. I loved the ending which paints William as a loving father, something that even his wife had doubted.

I noticed that some readers have been upset by the fact that Anne’s name had been changed to Agnes, but it’s a name which is not popular, it was my own mother’s name, she was dutifully named after a grandmother but was always called Nancy by everyone, so it seems very likely to me that Ann was her pet name, perhaps O’Farrell should just have stuck with that rather than reverting to the official name which appears in her father’s will.

4 thoughts on “Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

  1. I have been curious about this book, seeing so many reviews but not sure whether I would like a story that invents things about Shakespeare’s life. But I guess that is the only thing an author can do when there is so little information about his life. Since you liked it so well, I do hope to try it sometime.

    • tracybham,
      I know how you feel but for me anyway Shakespeare lived so long ago and so little is known about his life that it’s the only thing a writer can do, so I’m happy for them to embroider the past. However I really am not keen when they hijack a more recent life such as has happened to Josephine Tey who as I recall is now appearing as a detective in a series of books – and the character is just nothing like the actual person, but maybe that’s me taking things too seriously!

  2. I really enjoyed this book, partly because though we know it’s about this hugely famous person, his name is never actually used. Nor is it really about him. I read it more as a study of how we react to grief.

    • Bookertalk,
      I agree and that was why I liked the ending as it’s so easy for people to jump to the wrong conclusion when they mis-read someone else’s actions. I was touched by the ending, and the parental relationship which could have been seen as being remote, but maybe wasn’t.

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