‘TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE.
A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER.
A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.‘
[ About the Book ]
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.
[ Review ]
Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell is the highly anticipated new release from this much loved writer. Due for publication on March 31st with Tinder Press it is described as ‘a stunning new departure for Maggie O’ Farrell’s fiction – the heart-stopping story behind Shakespeare’s most famous play.’ I was honoured, thrilled and very excited to receive an early copy and folks may I just say the anticipation is worth it! I studied Hamlet in school but I must add that my knowledge of Shakespeare himself is minimal so I was well intrigued to read Hamnet and dive into the imagination of Maggie O’ Farrell.
Hamnet is a deliciously sumptuous read inspired by Maggie O’ Farrell’s fascination with a tidbit of information her teacher passed to her class over thirty years ago when studying Hamlet.
“This is a novel I’ve wanted to write for over thirty years, ever since I first heard Hamnet’s name spoken in a chilly classroom in Scotland. Between every book I’ve worked on, I’ve circled around the idea and read as much as i could find about this lost son. Not long ago I went to Stratford and walked through the rooms where he spent his short life…… I wanted to give voice to Hamnet, and his mother and sisters, to imagine what life had been like in the glover’s house in Henley Street, and how the tragic events of August 1596 might have played out” – Maggie O’ Farrell
Hamnet is a work of art, a book that transports the reader back in time and into the early years of one of the world’s most iconic playwrights, William Shakespeare.
Stratford-upon-Avon, 1596, a young boy and his twin sister are playing outside. After awhile the sister feels ill and takes to her bed. Her brother, unsure of what to do, looks everywhere for an adult to help him. His mother is over a mile away working in a garden and his father is in London. The boy cannot find his grandmother, his other sister, anyone to help his sister. She is getting weaker and he fears, as he witnesses the change in her complexion, in her constitution, that nobody will come to save her. As he awaits he lies with her to keep her company. His name is Hamnet Shakespeare and the young girl is his twin sister, Judith.
William Shakespeare was a Latin tutor, highly gifted but penniless. His father had no time for his son’s obsession with the written word and bullied him on a daily basis, oft-times with a violent hand. His father was a glove maker but was not a popular man. He would manipulate others out of greed and a desire to be masterful and empowered. He promised his young son, to fulfill a debt, as a tutor to family of means, so William, with little choice, entered this house to educate and pass on his knowledge to the children, now under his tutelage.
It is here that William first sets eyes on Agnes, as she moves past the window totally absorbed, totally her own person. He is immediately smitten and, on meeting her, he is instantly enraptured by this fascinating and extraordinary individual. Agnes is unlike anyone he has ever met. She understands his passions and likewise he encourages her unconventional behaviour. The locals are unsure of Agnes, as they were with her mother before her. Agnes has an insatiable thirst for knowledge about plants, bees and all the goodness that nature has to offer. She uses this talent to heal but there are some who fear her eccentricities.
Agnes and William fall rapidly in love, marry and have three children.
Now living alongside William’s parents, Agnes adapts to life within a town. Their marriage is passionate. Their love for each other is strong. Agnes’ reputation grows as a healer but William stagnates. He wants to write, he wants to let his imagination soar but he is stifled in Stratford. With the encouragement of Agnes, he makes the move to London, with an ambition, a dream to become the playwright he always hoped to be.
A flea, one small flea, plays a leading role in this story as we follow it’s path from Alexandria across the globe carrying a deadly virus (how apt!) Maggie O’ Farrell creates an incredible tapestry threading the journey of this flea and conjuring up some remarkable images of life at the time. It is a bewildering and frightening tale.
As the stage is set in London for William Shakespeare’s trajectory, his life comes crashing down. Returning at speed to Stratford he is shocked, distraught and ripped asunder by what he discovers. He has lost a child. His heart is broken and as he descends into grief, he decided to return to London and to bury himself in his work. It is Agnes who then takes centre stage, Agnes who buries deep to find the strength to keep going and to protect the family she has left.
Maggie O’ Farrell has created an exceptional and magnificent piece of writing, bringing this little known piece of history to life in such wondrous detail. This is very much a story about Agnes, an extraordinary person, a loving mother and one who had a complete understanding of her husband’s need to write, whatever the cost to her. Losing a child changed Agnes. Her children were her life and her failure to protect and keep them all alive bore heavily on her shoulders.
Hamnet is a powerful novel, a stunning recreation written with a remarkable narrative. Maggie O’ Farrell captures beautifully the tragedy of a life lost, a struggling marriage, a faltering relationship. The reimagining of William Shakespeare’s younger years has such an authentic feel transporting the reader right into his life, into his thoughts and dreams, into his mind. Hamnet captures something very special, something very unique. It is an exquisite novel, an irresistible read, a truly captivating and remarkable piece of literary fiction.
[ Bio ]
Maggie O’Farrell is the author of the Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling memoir I AM, I AM, I AM, and eight novels: AFTER YOU’D GONE, MY LOVER’S LOVER, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX, THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, and HAMNET.
She lives in Edinburgh.