My rating: 5 stars
A story about grief, parenthood, love and family life, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a convincing, albeit fictional, tale about the events surrounding the death of the son of a famous playwright, William Shakespeare, who is never mentioned by his name. The feelings of the characters are so palpable and intense that we can almost experience them ourselves. Although this is the story of an entire family, it is mostly Agnes who is in the spotlight. Her suffering is profoundly portrayed.
The book starts with a historical note to let readers know that this is the story of a couple who lived in Stratford in the 1580s. They had three children – Susanna, plus the twins Hamnet and Judith. We know from the outset that this is to be a sad tale. Hamnet died in 1596, when he was eleven years old. Some years later, his father wrote a play called Hamlet.
Sometime before his death, Hamnet is desperately looking for his mother, grandmother or any other member of the household, as his sister Judith is feeling unwell. He can’t find anyone. Agnes is at a garden where she grows medicinal herbs. She was called there because something was wrong with the bees. His older sister and his grandmother are in town, and his father is in London. Eventually, he finds someone in the house. Unfortunately, it is his grandfather, a disgraced glover, who is drunk and ends up throwing a cup at his face. Continue reading