WINNER OF THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2020 - THE NO. 1 BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE 2020 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION - THE NO. 1 BESTSELLER 2021
'Richly sensuous... something special' The Sunday Times
'A thing of shimmering wonder' David Mitchell
TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.
On a summer's day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a sudden 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 Hamnet will not survive the week.
Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright: a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The author of I Am, I Am, I Am turns to historical fiction for Hamnet, reimagining the life and death of William Shakespeare’s only son. Scholars speculate the boy inspired Shakespeare’s major tragedies, written in the years following the 11-year-old’s sudden death. O’Farrell makes Hamnet a curious character, innocently immersed in his own world and often unnoticed by those around him. Dramatic silences are used to highlight the absence of both parents in the first part of the book and the devastating effects of Hamnet’s death in the second. The poignantly atmospheric novel, evocatively set in 16th-century Stratford-upon Avon, tenderly examines Shakespeare’s romance with unconventional wife Agnes (Anne Hathaway) and the fractured relationship with his family as he establishes his career in London.
O'Farrell (This Must Be the Place) concocts an outstanding masterpiece of Shakespearean apocrypha in this tale of an unnamed bard's family living in Stratford-upon-Avon while his star is rising in London. In 1596, 11-year-old Hamnet's twin sister, Judith, comes down with a sudden, severe illness. Hamnet searches urgently for help, and is treated cruelly by his drunken grandfather, John, a glove maker. Hamnet's mother, Agnes, known and feared for dispensing mysterious homeopathic remedies, is at Hewlands, her family's farmhouse. When she returns home, Judith shows undeniable signs of the bubonic plague, and the diagnosis is confirmed by a doctor. O'Farrell then tells of Agnes and her husband's passionate courtship, and of Agnes's stepmother banishing her from Hewlands after she becomes pregnant. The couple moves into a small, drafty addition to his parent's house, where Agnes's husband grows restless and melancholic in his overbearing, volatile father's presence, and she schemes to send him to London to expand John's business. Throughout, Agnes possesses keen premonitions and is deeply troubled when she gives birth to twins after their firstborn daughter, which contradicts a vision she'd had that the couple's two children will stand by her deathbed. More disturbing, and unbelievable to her, is Hamnet and Judith's sudden trading places on the sick bed. O'Farrell brilliantly explores the married couple's relationship, capturing Agnes's intuition that her husband is destined for great things in London, along with her frustration that his world is unknown to her. The book is filled with astonishing, timely passages, such as the plague's journey to Stratford via a monkey's flea from Alexandria. This is historical fiction at its best.
Better than I thought
I had put off reading this from my book club as I don’t enjoy historical fiction.
I was wrong. It was wonderful. The sights, the smells of the age come to life on the pages. There is raw emotion too.
I’m glad I saved it until the summer holidays - I was able to savour every page!
This moving, sensitive and outstanding work is beautifully written. It draws the reader in to a liminal reality that touches the heart, the mind, the soul.
Even those who are not into historical or period story will be fascinated by the natural, sophisticated language used in this book. A seamless merge between events, feelings and charming descriptions which are never tedious.
Nothing should be given away of this fascinating story which is held together by genuine natural talent.