Hamnet

By Maggie O'Farrell,

Book cover of Hamnet

Book description

WINNER OF THE 2020 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION - THE NO. 1 BESTSELLER 2021
'Richly sensuous... something special' The Sunday Times
'A thing of shimmering wonder' David Mitchell

TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.

On a summer's day in…

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Why read it?

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

I love O’Farrell’s use of language–the depth and the poetry—and have read most of her books. I especially liked this book because I read it shortly after my daughter died in 2020, and the maternal and complicated feelings of Hamnet’s mother (Shakespeare’s wife) are so well rendered.

O’Farrell also has a magical way of recreating a time and a place. I think she’s one of the best writers when it comes to getting into a character’s head, too.

I read my fair share of Shakespeare in school and learned that he left his "second best bed" to his wife, but nothing prepared me for the reality of the Black Death, his life as a young Latin tutor who fell in love with an older woman, and the loss of his son. I love O’Farrell’s writing, beautiful atmospheric prose, and a deep study of what can fracture a family.

I could not put this book down.

I loved the rich, luminous writing that brought characters and scenes to life in Maggie O’Farrell’s evocative, emotionally intense portrait of William Shakespeare’s family. The multisensorial detail of the writing made me feel like an omniscient fly on the wall in various Elizabethan households, observing both the routines of daily life and the wrenching apart of those routines by tragedy, the death of a child.

That child is the novel’s title character, Hamnet, Agnes Hathaway and William Shakespeare’s son. But for me, the star of the novel is Hamnet’s free-spirited mother, Agnes, whom O’Farrell conjures into being with few facts…

Book cover of Dulcinea

Ana Veciana-Suarez Author Of Dulcinea

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I became fascinated with 16th-century and 17th-century Europe after reading Don Quixote many years ago. Since then, every novel or nonfiction book about that era has felt both ancient and contemporary. I’m always struck by how much our environment has changed—transportation, communication, housing, government—but also how little we as people have changed when it comes to ambition, love, grief, and greed. I doubled down my reading on that time period when I researched my novel, Dulcinea. Many people read in the eras of the Renaissance, World War II, or ancient Greece, so I’m hoping to introduce them to the Baroque Age. 

Ana's book list on bringing to life the forgotten Baroque Age

What is my book about?

Dolça Llull Prat, a wealthy Barcelona woman, is only 15 when she falls in love with an impoverished poet-solder. Theirs is a forbidden relationship, one that overcomes many obstacles until the fledgling writer renders her as the lowly Dulcinea in his bestseller.

By doing so, he unwittingly exposes his muse to gossip. But when Dolça receives his deathbed note asking to see her, she races across Spain with the intention of unburdening herself of an old secret.

On the journey, she encounters bandits, the Inquisition, illness, and the choices she's made. At its heart, Dulcinea is about how we betray the people we love, what happens when we succumb to convention, and why we squander the few chances we get to change our lives.

“What if?” is a question I often ask myself as a person and as an author. This is why I so loved this book, in which an unassuming young woman marries and has children and then loses one, though the loss of the son brings the talent of her husband to its full potential.

As I get older, I wonder about my choices and the choices life thrusts upon me. What if, after my own husband died, I hadn’t written my first novel? Would I be the same person I am today? What it would be like to be famous?…

From Joanne's list on digging out when life just buries you.

I’m a Shakespeare fan from childhood, so this beautifully crafted story of the Bard’s youth and family life intrigued me.

Beguiling is a word I’d use, pulling you in from the first line, “A boy is coming down the stairs,” almost stage directions. The deep understanding of the place and people provides a solid basis for O’Farrell's evocation of Shakespeare’s origins and especially his wife. Left me in tears but also suffused with the pure joy of creation. 

The language is just spell-binding! I have to say the story is slow to develop at the outset, and it took a couple of chapters before I fell in love with it. But once I did, I was entranced.

It tells the story of William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, and their children from Anne’s viewpoint. As not much is known about his family, the story is the author’s imagining.

As with Shakespeare’s plays, it runs the gamut from love to tragedy and everything in between. It was the winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I can see…

I have often wondered about the twin son of William Shakespeare and Ann Hathaway, who died at age 11. Maggie O'Farrell has breathed life into this little-known character and his 16th-century family.

The story is well-crafted and filled with sensory details and raw emotion. As a mother, I could relate to the emotions of Agnes (Ann) after her son dies. The details of how the Black Death came to Stratford Upon Avon are fascinating, proving that some things are out of our control.

The story took me back 450 years to a different life, but also to a time when…

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, but that’s about as far as it goes.

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 Hamlet in any way more…

Perhaps because it was a “number one bestseller” and I am a snob, I did not expect to be so won over by this book. I was knocked over by its power and wisdom.

On the surface, this is a fictional reimagining of the experiences of Shakespeare’s wife and family when their 11-year-old son Hamnet dies from the plague. We know this happened and that Shakespeare’s writing was affected by this trauma, including Hamlet. But this is not a book about Shakespeare. The man is out of town most of the novel, so much so that his absence is…

I had promised myself I would savor this book on a plane flight to Europe in the winter of 2022. Alas, the flight was canceled due to my husband’s illness. I delayed opening the book until the autumn of 2023 when I flew from Canada to the U.K. I’m glad I did.

The nine-hour flight ‘flew by’ as I found myself living alongside William Shakespeare’s family in 1580s Warwickshire and shared the minutiae of Elizabethan rural life as well as their joy and sorrow.

I am fascinated by Shakespeare anyway. In one of my books, Shakespeare joins my protagonists in…

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