Womens Prize Reviews #9: Hamnet by Maggie OFarrell


Meanwhile, her young husband moons about, a little gloomy and ill-at-ease unless he’s in bed with Agnes. On the rare occasions early in the novel when O’Farrell allows access to young Shakespeare’s thoughts, they are disappointingly ordinary. At Agnes’ insistence, he follows his dreams to London, where he makes a life without them. He comes home, he says, when he can — two or three times a year — and writes letters. He is absent when the pestilence kills Hamnet.

As Ledger gets to know Kenna and acknowledges his attraction to her, he begins to wonder if maybe he and Scotty’s parents have judged her unfairly. Even so, Ledger is afraid that if he surrenders to his feelings, Scotty’s parents will kick him out of Diem’s life. As Kenna and Ledger continue to mourn for Scotty, they also grieve the future they cannot have with each other.

In an earlier timeline, John Shakespeare owes a debt to a sheep farmer. John and the farmer’s wife Joan have an arrangement for his son William to work off the debt by tutoring Joan’s sons. Agnes and her brother Bartholomew are the farmer’s children with his first wife.

The idea that motivates Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel…is an awkward one. What father would memorialize his dead child as a depressed man who contemplates suicide and the murder of his uncle before being murdered himself? If one is able to overlook this central flaw, then the novel offers a moving portrait of a mother’s grief …

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along , promote, and/or share my blog. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is poignant Literary Fiction, the story of a mother’s grief, and the winner of the Women’s Fiction Prize for 2020. This book was read during September 2021 and the continuing restrictions due to the Covid-19 virus, and so the discussion was not ‘live’ as usual, but took place via a Facebook irish music on sirius xm group, email and telephone conversations. It’s almost a cliché among bibliophiles, but each week I run across this sentiment on Twitter and Facebook, in long-distance phone chats, over brie and bottles of chardonnay in nearby Prospect Park. And then there’s the novel that sees you, almost literally, in this unprecedented year, plots mirroring the trajectory of your life, reversals of fortune identical to your own.

Also, there was instalove, and instalove of the most annoying, vanilla kind. Agnes sees Shakespeare for the first time, she touches his hand, can tell through her Magical Powers that he’s a good person or something (?) and then what do you know they’re in love! He also appears as a character in the 2018 film All Is True, written by Ben Elton. The largely fictionalised plot revolves around William Shakespeare coming to terms with Hamnet’s death and his relationship with his family.

O’Farrell chooses to make Agnes a wild spirit, possible part-dryad, eccentric and in touch with nature, a healer and a herbalist, possessing almost unerring precognition. She’s special and intuitive and quirky in that force-of-nature new strong-woman feminine stereotype that does her no favors. O’Farrell brilliantly explores the married couple’s relationship … The book is filled with astonishing, timely passages, such as the plague’s journey to Stratford via a monkey’s flea from Alexandria.