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Book Review of 'Hamnet' by Maggie O'Farrell

I am a homemaker, mother and a wife. I have a passion for books. I always like to know about different books and love to read them.

About the Author and the Book

Maggie O’Farrell is a very talented novelist from Northern Ireland. Her novels have become highly popular. Her book ‘The Hand that First Held Mine’ won the Costa novel award in 2010.

‘Hamnet’ is her eighth novel which was published in the year 2020 by the publisher Tinder Press. It became Sunday Times Bestseller and won the Women’s Prize for fiction. Hamnet, also called Hamlet is the 11-year-old child of William Shakespeare. William Shakespeare, the famous playwriter, the bard or swan of Avon, is the one whom the world knows. But very few know about his wife, Anne Hathaway or Agnes. Maggie O’Farrell has touched on the life of Agnes in her book. She has made Agnes the protagonist. The whole book revolves around her life, her feelings, and her grief.

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Storyline

The story is of Shakespeare’s family. Agnes is the daughter of a farmer who died many years ago but left a significant dowry for her. She lives with her brother Bartholomew, her stepmother, and several half-siblings. She has a natural gift of her ability to see a person’s future and also knows various plants and their healing powers. The people in the community treat her strange and mad. The boys in this farming family are taught by a Latin Tutor who is the son of a glovemaker. The tutor falls in love with Agnes but her stepmother is against the marriage. Agnes gets pregnant and hence both get married. They start living in a small house next to her in-laws. They have three children Susanna, Hamnet, and Judith. The father of the children goes to London and becomes a playwriter. Back at home, a horrible disease grips the twins (Hamnet and Judith) and Hamnet dies.

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Evaluation

Two different timelines, different emotions, and how exquisitely the author has written this novel. She has produced a work of art. The novel is full of literary beauty. It contains fear, anger, beliefs, superstitions, hatred, loss, and grief. The past and the present go alternatively in the story. The present is about the ill health of Judith and then the death of Hamnet. The past is how William and Agnes met, their courtship, and marriage. The book takes the reader to Shakespeare’s time. Interestingly, nowhere in the whole story, the name of Shakespeare is mentioned. He is cited as the son, the husband, the father, or the Latin tutor.

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The title of the novel is Hamnet but it is more about Agnes than her son Hamnet. The story starts with Hamnet and his fear and desperation for help when his sister Judith is unwell and nobody is at home. But then it moves to Agnes. Agnes, a fiercely independent woman, a healer, the dominant character of the book, a compassionate and exceptionally gifted female rules this book. Every event and every emotion of her life is written with so much preciseness and detail that it touches the heart of the reader. As the book progresses, the reader starts sympathising with her abandonment when her husband is away, and her grief when her son dies. How the loss of a child affects the parents, is very heart-breaking and the way it is narrated can make the reader shed tears. The stream of consciousness approach by the author can make the person analyse the mind of the character.

The account of how the plague reached Agnes’s children is remarkable. Although, Hamnet’s father(William) is not the leading character in the book, the way he misses his son after his death is expressed quite significantly.

I would recommend this book to every adult who can put up with emotional reads. Those who don’t know much about Shakespeare can also enjoy this book as the author has generalised the book by not mentioning his name anywhere in the whole story.

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