Near the bottom, he pauses for a moment, looking back the way he has come. Then, suddenly resolute, he leaps the final three stairs, as is his habit. He stumbles as he lands, falling to his knees on the flagstone floor."
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 the tender reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose names was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
I do not often use the word 'outstanding' when I review books as I feel it is not a term to be used lightly. However, it is a highly appropriate one to use for this book as this is the best book that I have read in a while.
It is deeply moving and I am not in the least surprised that it won the Women's Prize for Fiction. A very worthy winner in my opinion. I am always a little wary of books which receive so much hype as they so frequently disappoint but this novel is deserving of all the accolades that it has received.
I have read a few of her books and have enjoyed every one. If you would like to read my review of The Hand That First Held Mine please click on the title link and it will take you straight to it.
Hamnet is beautifully written from start to finish and is one of those books where I felt a little devastated when I came to the end. Books where I deliberately slow my reading pace so that I can luxuriate in the wonderful writing a little longer.
There is a raw quality to the emotions that are portrayed so lovingly and I could see that Ms. O'Farrell cared deeply about the boy, Hamnet, who in reality, as a historical figure, we know so little about. However, he was brought to life (and death) so vividly in this book along with his mother. Her pain and grief was visceral and I could have cried along with her.
Interestingly, the woman that we know as Anne Hathaway was called Agnes in this book. Apparently, in her father's will he states her name as Agnes rather than Anne and the author used this name throughout. Whatever, her actual name was she has been vividly brought to life in this novel and her character is very well portrayed.
The narrative moves between past and present. It took me a little while to get used to but I could quickly identify the different character voices including that of the young and older character of Agnes.
Maggie O'Farrell has composed a marvellous re-imagining of the lives of the wife of William Shakespeare, his children and parents, although the man himself plays a peripheral role in the book.
I would be amazed if I read many books this year that are as excellent as this one and I highly recommend it.
ISBN: 978 142223791
Publisher: Tinder Press
- Maggie O’Farrell is the author of the Sunday Times number one 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, and Hamnet.
- She lives in Edinburgh.