Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is an imaginative telling of the story of William Shakespeare’s family. One of the primary focuses of the story is the death of son Hamnet at age (11) eleven and the toll it takes on the family. The protagonist of the story is Agnes Hathaway Shakespeare, who is described as unique woman, a healer, a loving wife, and a devoted mother.
The story is told in an ethereal manner with an almost otherworldly tone. Maggie O’Farrel makes the reader feel all the emotions surrounding this unorthodox family and the gut-wrenching death of the beloved son.
While history does not state how Hamnet actually died, the author makes his death the result of the bubonic plague. O’Farrell describes in detail how the plague started and how it ended up in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It is really surreal reading about this old world plague while we are in the midst of our own modern world-wide plague known as Covid-19. If I had read this book last year, I would have persisted in my comfortable belief that plagues are a thing of the past.
I listened to the Audible audiobook. I must admit I was confused at first. Shakespeare is never mentioned by name and is almost a secondary character. I had always known his wife to be Ann Hathaway but the novel calls her Agnes. I had to stop listening and do some research. Apparently her father’s will referred to her as Agnes so the author went with that name instead of the more common usage. Also, the Audible narration doesn’t say out loud the chapter numbers. It made it difficult in the beginning to grasp that the story had moved from the time just before Hamnet’s death to a flashback to the earlier time surrounding the courtship of Shakespeare and Agnes. Once I had these issues figured out, I was able to enjoy the story more. If I had a hard copy of the book I would have found the information in the author’s notes.
4.5- stars, rounded up to 5-Stars. My guess is that this novel will be on the Best Seller List for quite a while. If we are friends on Goodreads, I would appreciate it if you would Like MY POST.