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Maggie O’Farrell’s HAMNET


This is unlike anything Maggie O’Farrell has every written yet at the same time is deeply familiar too her other novels and memoir. On the surface the novel is about the devastating story behind the inspiration for William Shakespeare’s Hamlet but in the hands of Maggie O’Farrell this extraordinary story is something else entirely. Deeply personal and emotional this book will resonate long after you put it down and will alter your perception of the famous play forever.


Hamnet was the son of William Shakespeare. But this is not a novel about Shakespeare. Instead it is about his wife Agnes (known more commonly as Anne) and his three children; Susanna and twins Judith and Hamnet. Agnes is a brilliantly drawn and realized character. One I had no knowledge of before reading this novel nor their three children. Agnes is a mysterious and unconventional woman, especially for the 1500s. She is known as a healer and is rumoured to have other strange gifts. These rumours swirl around her putting her at odds both with her family and the local townsfolk but not in the eyes of one man. Maggie O’Farrell alternates the story between how Agnes and Shakespeare meet, fall in love and build their life together with the story of their son Hamnet and the sequence of events that leads to an immense loss that will eventually inspire a famous play.


What I loved most about this novel was the absence of Shakespeare. In the early years of his and Agnes life together when they are starting their life together, he is never referred to by his famous name or monikers nor his famous profession. Instead he is the gloveman’s son or the Latin tutor, everything but what we know him for. When we read Hamnet’s story he is missing. Off stage in London try to start the career we know him for but not at home where he is needed.


This is what historical fiction is all about. Maggie O’Farrell shines a light on a story lost to history. It is a portrait of a marriage that has been largely ignored. A portrayal of grief so profound it inspired one of the world’s most famous plays. And a depiction of a woman who is so much more than the wife of a famous playwright that she has been consigned to by history.



Title: Hamnet

Author: Maggie O'Farrell

Edition: 1

Publisher: Headline Publishing Group

ISBN: 9781472223807

Length: 234.0 millimetre

Width: 153.0 millimetre

Languages: English

Format: PaperBack

Category: Historical fiction

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