Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
What a cracking work of fiction. Hands down my most enjoyable read of the year so far.
Hamnet is a fictionalised account of the death of William Shakespeare’s son.
Clearly I wasn’t listening at school, because I had never known that Shakespeare had three children (a girl and then a twin boy and girl) and that the boy died at the age of eleven. I also didn’t know that Hamnet and Hamlet were interchangeable names and that Shakespeare wrote his most famous play only four years after his son’s death.
Ironically, this book is not about William Shakespeare – his name doesn’t appear on the page at all. He is only referred to as the Latin tutor or the Husband because the book is the story of his wife (Anne/Agnes) and their children and what they go through together. Reader’s Warning – there are big themes of grief, love and loss and you know from the start that things won’t end well for eleven year-old Hamnet. Not that the knowledge of what is to come makes that part of the book any easier. I didn’t cry, but I did have a bit of a nightmare which is possibly worse. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Hamnet is historical fiction, but not as you know it. Thanks to its split story format, it’s an absolute page turner that takes you into the home and heart of a family in the English countryside in the late 1500’s. The fact that it is based on what we know of the life of the most celebrated writer in the history of the English language just adds a whole other dimension and elevates it to the kind of book you are going to want recommend to everyone. I picked up my copy on the recommendation of Anna at the Potts Point Bookshop, who was clearly feeling the same way. She knows how to pick a winner.
And that’s my 2 cents worth.