Some weeks ago I was utterly thrilled to receive a wonderful surprise copy of Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet from Midas’s Director of Books and Publishing, Georgina Moore. No sooner had I dived in to Hamnet than the coronavirus crisis began and all Maggie’s promotional events had to be cancelled. With lovely Anne Cater of Random Things Tours stepping in to help out I was delighted to join in the blog tour to help celebrate the launch of Hamnet.
Published by Tinder Press yesterday, 31st March 2020, Hamnet is available for purchase through the links here.
TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.
On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?
Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.
Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
My Review of Hamnet
An imagined story of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet.
Where on earth do I begin to review Hamnet? This is one of those books that defy the reader because it is so brilliant, so moving and so wonderful that all the usual adjectives and superlatives feel jaded, hackneyed and inadequate in response.
Maggie O’Farrell’s mesmerising prose has a luminous beauty that feels almost ethereal, whilst at the same time being grounded in very human senses. Her descriptions are exquisite, transporting the reader to the late 1500s with vivid clarity, complete depth and authenticity alongside a lightness of touch that is breathtaking. Some of the seamless similes and metaphors literally made me gasp aloud. As I read I could feel a tangible tenderness in the writing that touched me completely. I adored too, the occasional oblique references to Shakespeare’s writing that are slipped in, making Hamnet feel connected through time and space to Hamlet and Shakespeare himself. Indeed, that is one of the huge successes of Hamnet as we see how humanity is linked in minute ways that have profound impact, so that it doesn’t matter whether a reader knows anything about the playwright or his plays to enjoy this story completely.
Whilst Hamnet is the protagonist and catalyst for the narrative, this is very much Agnes’s story. I loved the fact that Shakespeare himself is referred to as ‘the son’, ‘the father’, ‘the husband’ so that Maggie O’Farrell has inverted the concept of history, making Hamnet very much her-story, with Agnes at the heart. And what a character Agnes is. She is the very embodiment of universal womanhood, of her era and of human emotion. Agnes can hate as well as love, control as well as comply, create as well as destroy so that she feels pulsatingly real. Both mystical and earthly, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a character quite like her. I lived alongside Agnes rather than read about her because she felt so alive.
The other people in the pages of Hamnet are equally vivid and realistic. I often found I had quite strong emotional responses to them so that I experienced pure, unselfish love, strong dislike and all consuming grief particularly powerfully. I wept on more than one occasion as I read. As the captivating plot unfolds, each person is revealed with increasing clarity so that they mattered to me as much as any real people.
Character, setting and sublime writing aside, Hamnet is a cracking story. The narrative ebbs and flows with history, peril, love and events that sweep the reader along. I was utterly mesmerised.
Hamnet is a book that feels absorbed by the reader’s soul rather than read. I am in awe of Maggie O’Farrell’s writing talent and feel privileged to have read Hamnet. Don’t miss it.
About Maggie O’Farrell
Maggie O’Farrell is the author of the Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling memoir I Am, I Am, I Am, and eight novels: After You’d Gone, My Lover’s Lover, The Distance Between Us, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox, The Hand That First Held Mine, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, Instructions For A Heatwave, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, This Must Be The Place, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, and Hamnet. She lives in Edinburgh.
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