When Maggie O’Farrell first heard Shakespeare’s only son Hamnet had died at the tender age of eleven before the great tragedy of Hamlet was written, she knew she had to write that story but it has taken decades of research before she felt able to put pen to paper.
The resulting novel Hamnet is pitch-perfect, an absolutely heart-stopping story of theatre’s closed and plague moving amongst a population, not knowing who will die next. I’m sure the parrellels won’t be lost on today’s readers.
More than that it is also the story of a wife and mother, left at home while her husband enjoys fame and glory in the city. I was quite blown away by this remarkable book and couldn’t recommend it more highly.
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; a 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.
‘Stunning. The writing is exquisite, immersive and compelling… deserves to win prizes’ – Marian Keyes ‘The story of Hamnet Shakespeare has been waiting in the shadows for over four hundred years. Maggie O’Farrell brings it dazzlingly, devastatingly, into the light’ – Kamila Shamsie ‘Grief and loss so finely written I could hardly bear to read it’ – Sarah Moss ‘Heartstopping. Hamnet does for the Shakespeare story what Jean Rhys did for Jane Eyre, inhabiting, enlarging and enriching it in ways that will alter the reader’s view for ever’