Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction (previously the Orange Prize)
Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell, is an imagined telling of the lives of Shakespeare’s family who remained in Warwickshire while he was off producing plays in London. Little is known about them and O’Farrell imagines a credible and loving relationship between Agnes, his free spirited wife and healer, and their three children. Central to the novel is the death by plague of 11-year-old Hamnet and O’Farrell recounts in gorgeous language and prose the passion, grief, and ultimately reconciliation with this loss.
I recently Zoomed an interview of O’Farrell by author Jane Hamilton, who gives the novel high praise and feels MO has elevated her writing to a whole new plane. Having read all of MO’s works, including her memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am, I also believe it to be her best yet. JH described the cadence, or “music of the sentences” that makes the book such absolute joy to read. It is a rare book that captures your imagination; a book you wish never to end; a book you want to share; a book you will read again. Hamnet is that book. It is dangerous to assume others must love a book because you do, but trust me; immerse yourself in this exceptional work of imagination and for a few hours escape the troubled times in which we find ourselves.— Jean
August 2020 Indie Next List
“I loved Hamnet in very much the same way I loved Lincoln in the Bardo. This novel explores the way the dead haunt the living—especially how the death of a child haunts their parents—and does it in the context of a fascinating historical figure and time. But we know so much about the Lincolns, and so little about the Shakespeares. Maggie O’Farrell’s ability to construct a palpably real emotional life for all the members of the Shakespeare family—but especially for Shakespeare’s wife—is just magical. This is a powerful and haunting novel.”
— Nina Barrett, Bookends & Beginnings, Evanston, IL
WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
*A New York Times Best Seller*
*One of The New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year*
A New York Public Library Best Book of the Year
“Of all the stories that argue and speculate about Shakespeare’s life… here is a novel … so gorgeously written that it transports you." —The Boston Globe
In 1580’s England, during the Black Plague a young Latin tutor falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman in this “exceptional historical novel” (The New Yorker) and best-selling winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Agnes is a wild creature who walks her family’s land with a falcon on her glove and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer, understanding plants and potions better than she does people. Once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose career on the London stage is taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever.
A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a tender and unforgettable re-imagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, and whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays of all time, Hamnet is mesmerizing, seductive, impossible to put down—a magnificent leap forward from one of our most gifted novelists.
About the Author
Born in Northern Ireland in 1972, Maggie O’Farrell grew up in Wales and Scotland and now lives in Edinburgh. She is the author of The Hand That First Held Mine (winner of the Costa Novel Award); Instructions for a Heatwave; This Must Be the Place; and most recently, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death.
"O'Farrell has a melodic relationship to language. There is a poetic cadence to her writing and a lushness in her descriptions of the natural world. . . . We can smell the tang of the various new leathers in the glover's workshop, the fragrance of the apples racked a finger-width apart in the winter storage shed. . . . As the book unfolds, it brings its story to a tender and ultimately hopeful conclusion: that even the greatest grief, the most damaged marriage, and most shattered heart might find some solace, some healing."
—Geraldine Brooks, the New York Times Book Review
“All too timely. . . inspired. . . . [An] exceptional historical novel ”
—The New Yorker
"Magnificent and searing. . . . A family saga so bursting with life, touched by magic, and anchored in affection. . . . Of all the stories that argue and speculate about Shakespeare’s life, about whether he even wrote his own plays, here is a novel that matches him with a woman overwhelmingly more than worthy."
—The Boston Globe
"A tour de force. . . . Hamnet vividly captures the life-changing intensity of maternity in its myriad stages—from the pain of childbirth to the unassuagable grief of loss. Fierce emotions and lyrical prose are what we've come to expect of O'Farrell."
"O'Farrell moves through the family's pain like a master of signs and signals. . . . In Hamnet, art imitates life not to co-opt reality, but to help us bear it."
—Los Angeles Times
"Wholly original, fully engrossing. . . . Agnes is a character for the ages—engimatic, fully formed and nearly literally bewitching to behold in every scene she's in."
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Superb. . . . O’Farrell’s exquisitely wrought eighth novel proves once again what a very fine writer she is.”
“Elliptical, dreamlike. . . . [Hamnet] confirms O’Farrell as an extraordinarily versatile writer, with a profound understanding of the most elemental human bonds—qualities also possessed by a certain former Latin tutor from Stratford.”
—The Observer (UK)
“A remarkable piece of work. . . . O’Farrell is one of the most surprisingly quiet radicals in fiction.”
“[A] portrayal of grief and pain. . . . O’Farrell describes these agonies with such power that Hamnet would resonate at any time.”
“[O’Farrell is] a writer of rare emotional intelligence whose personal intimations of mortality bear rich fruit in this, her eighth novel.”
“This artfully paced novel is an anatomy of grief. . . . Just when the novel’s second part seems to be moving to a tragic conclusion, it mounts a stunning redemptive volte-face.”
—The Times Literary Supplement
"This striking, painfully lovely novel captures the very nature of grief."
—Booklist (starred review)