By Maggie O'Farrell,

Book cover of Hamnet

Book description

'Richly sensuous... something special' The Sunday Times
'A thing of shimmering wonder' David Mitchell


On a summer's day in…

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Why read it?

19 authors picked Hamnet as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

While this is a story broadly about all the Shakespeares, Anne Shakespeare is a focal point. She’s a unique woman with an understanding of nature and an almost supernatural way about her. Her courage to live her life as she sees fit is by turns subtly and boldly expressed through O’Farrell’s masterful prose. I’ve always enjoyed stories about Shakespeare and his family, and this one was so beautifully written that I might even re-read it.

From Margaret's list on a female protagonist claiming her agency.

In Hamnet, set in the late 16th century, I can “see” the town, the room, the farm, the children, the kittens, even the furniture. Agnes' role as a healer, a free soul, a caring mother, makes her an unforgettable heroine. The terrible transposing of the illness from one twin to the other is something O'Farrell makes one believe could happen. Add to that the desperate plight of Agnes' son in a world that, despite her reputation as a healer, has no remedy for most illnesses and especially the plague. The grief she feels enters your psyche and is made…

From Leigh's list on capturing a moment in history.

This remarkable and moving book is a must for all Shakespeare lovers.

Set in Elizabethan times the narrator takes us through the eyes of the wife of Will Shakespeare without mentioning names. We are given a picture of a strange existence—a pregnancy outside marriage, devotion—and a sense of a deep love for the twins, Judith and Hamnet.

The death of Hamnet is heartbreaking in its intensity.

Read it! You won’t be able to put it down!

We know the expression behind every great man is a woman. But here, in Hamnet, the great woman is in front of the man, and then together they forge their life together. This book really works around the traditional Shakespeare story, focusing on family, love, identity, and loss—and the worst loss, that of a child. We learn so much about Agnes (Anne Hathaway) and her dreams and hopes and steer around the known stories of the plays and who wrote them. So moving. Such beautiful language. I could read it again right now.

This compelling novel is inspired by the possible connection between Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, Hamlet, and the death of his only son at the age of eleven. But the novel then expands out into an exploration of Shakespeare’s entire family, particularly his wife, Anne Hathaway, and the centuries of misinformation and vilification that have surrounded her.  This is historical fiction at its best: it is carefully researched but its portrait of early modern life is never heavy-handed; it asks us to separate what we actually know about Shakespeare and his family from misogyny and myth; and it is a…

I loved Agnes, and her character was all the more fascinating as I kept reminding myself she was a fictionalized version of Shakespeare’s wife. She has this mysterious, other-worldliness to her that I just adored. Her survival skills are what protect and guide her in life, far more than the protection of marriage or societal guidelines. She knows herself and cares not one iota if people say she’s too wild or too old or too odd. And, anyway, none of this matters when it comes to her parenting because she’s a strong and devoted mother to her children.  

To say I love this book is an understatement. I think it’s fair to say my interest in Shakespeare has always been about Shakespeare the man and the period he lived in, rather than an interest in his writings. I appreciate them as the great literature that they are but that’s about as far as it goes. And of course, I have heard of Hamlet – who hasn’t? But when I picked up this book, I approached it with no knowledge at all of what it was about; in fact, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even connect Hamnet to…

The story of a fascinating woman largely ignored by history? Yes please, sign me up for it immediately! Hamnet tells the story of Agnes, wife of Shakespeare, and the tragedy in their family that inspired one of his most famous plays. It peels back the layers of time, creating an intimate portrait of family life that had me utterly absorbed. I cried so much reading this book that I gave myself a headache but kept on reading anyway because it was so gorgeous, so powerful and so incredibly moving. It evokes the strength and magic of motherhood, the complexity of…

From Jennifer's list on grief and complicated family dynamics.

This book helps you understand how universal and timeless the experience of grief is for all of humanity.

It takes place in England during the 1580s, during the Black Plague. The novel follows the life of a Latin tutor (who happens to be William Shakespeare.). We watch as he falls in love with an eccentric young woman and builds a life with her in spite of family enmeshments and dysfunctions. When one of their children eventually succumbs to the plague, the experience of parental bereavement is hauntingly powerful and universally true.

I love anything about Shakespeare. This is the story of William Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, who died at the age of 11. Little is known about the boy, but Maggie O’Farrell weaves a moving story out of the bare facts. It is a story about the profound grief and loss shared by Shakespeare and his wife, Ann, whose name is Agnes in this book. She comes to life, too, and O’Farrell gives us a portrait of a marriage like any other where a husband and wife are sometimes at odds, sometimes want different things, but try to understand themselves in…

From J.C.'s list on featuring historical figures.

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