(Review) Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell

Publisher and Publication Date: Alfred A. Knopf. 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction. Women and literature. Shakespeare.
Pages: 321.
Source: Borrowed library eBook copy.
Audience: Historical fiction readers.
Rating: Very good.

Amazon link

Hamnet is the story of Shakespeare’s family life. His life at home growing up, his early relationship with Agnes, marriage, children, and his departure away from family and to London.
The center of the story is the plague infiltrating the family home and its outcome of despair.

My Thoughts:
I originally was drawn to the book because of the front cover; and secondly because of the specific people and themes in the story.

Some examples of themes are ambition, loyalty, courage, death, honesty, love, and perseverance.

What I found interesting and brilliant is Shakespeare is not named perse. He is a larger than life historical figure who is not the hero of this story.
He is a husband and family man. Then, he is a man who left his family to follow a dream to London leaving his family behind.
I feel it is his wife, Agnes, who is the stand-out character in the story. She is an unusual woman because she is resilient and independent during an era when women were dependent on men. She has a unique gift. She encouraged and supported her husband to follow his dream. At least until the unspeakable happened.
The story has dual time periods. Reflections are made to the past to share the courting of Agnes and Shakespeare. It shares the problems in Shakespeare’s childhood home. It shares the births of their children. The present time period is the plague and its impact on the children, family unity, and marriage.
I love the structure of the story. Its form and shape in how it is told. Instead of the focus on Shakespeare (the expected), it is his wife and family who has the spotlight. Shakespeare is not even named.
Hamnet is the story of how people grieve. Different forms of grief are shown. In other words, different aspects of how people grieve and what they do to avoid grieving is displayed.


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