Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Audiobook Length: 12 hours and 42 minutes
First Published: 2020
View in Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
In an award-winning piece of literary fiction, Maggie O’Farrell imagines the life of William Shakespeare’s wife. Since almost everything about her is forgotten to history, O’Farrell has free reign in imagining Agnes as a fierce and misunderstood woman, who marries a poor Latin tutor, the son of a disgraced businessman.
While flashing back to Agnes and William’s past, the crux of the story focuses on the death of their son Hamnet, showing the endless depths of grief of a mother who loses a child and imagining how Hamnet’s death influenced Shakespeare’s famous play, Hamlet, written just four years later.
Hamnet is a slow enveloping read which focuses more on atmosphere than plot. O’Farrell consciously chose to never mention William Shakespeare by name, which I thought was an interesting omission. I loved the lyrical narration which keeps you slightly removed from the story, but readers who don’t love literary fiction will probably find Hamnet overrated.
England, 1580: The Black Death creeps across the land, an ever-present threat, infecting the healthy, the sick, the old and the young alike. The end of days is near, but life always goes on. A young Latin tutor—penniless and bullied by a violent father—falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman. 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 just taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever.
About Maggie O’Farrell
Maggie O’Farrell is an author whose works include This Must Be the Place, The Marriage Portrait, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, The Hand that First Held Me, Hamnet, and Instructions for a Heatwave. She is also the author of the memoir I Am, I Am, I Am. She lives in Edinburgh. Visit the author’s website →