[Epub] ↠ Hamnet Author Maggie O'Farrell – Moi-sosedi.info

Hamnet Shortlisted for the 2020 Women s Prize for Fiction.William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet four years after his son Hamnet died at the age of eleven Hamnet and Hamlet are the same name.Now I will admit that before I read this novel, I did not even know Shakespeare had a son, let alone that he tragically died at the age of eleven Yes, to say my knowledge of Shakespeare was rudimentary would be a compliment However, I believe you don t have to know anything about Shakespeare, who he was, his life, his Shortlisted for the 2020 Women s Prize for Fiction.William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet four years after his son Hamnet died at the age of eleven Hamnet and Hamlet are the same name.Now I will admit that before I read this novel, I did not even know Shakespeare had a son, let alone that he tragically died at the age of eleven Yes, to say my knowledge of Shakespeare was rudimentary would be a compliment However, I believe you don t have to know anything about Shakespeare, who he was, his life, his family, to enjoy this novel Enjoy may seem to be an inappropriate verb to use with this novel This novel is gut wrenching It will tear your heart into millions of little pieces, detritus from a narrative that has the power to break your soul.As it says in the synopsis, Shakespeare s son died in 1956 at the age of eleven Yet the novel is not about Hamnet or his death, it is about grief Grief, and the way it rips and tears apart lives, changing them forever Grief and how a Mother, a Father, a family deal with it.The heart of the novel may be about the grief and how it changes the parent s lives forever, but there is also a wonderful story that O Farrell has constructed around this heart.The novel opens with Hamnet coming down a stairway to be greeted with an empty house He leaves the house to enter his grandparent s house To his right his grandfather s workshop is empty To his left a dining hall also empty Silence is his only answer when he calls out Where is everybody Even after calling out the names of everybody who reside in the house his cries go unheeded.A noise breaks him from a daydream he had entered unknowingly, and he realises he has entered his grandfather s workshop A workshop that for Hamnet is out of bounds He retreats, hearing a noise in the parlour and finally finds his grandfather, who he accidently startles His grandfather has been drinking and angrily admonishes Hamnet His father s words run through his head, Stay away from your grandfather when he is in one of his black humours.So, only a few pages into the book and alarm bells start ringing in the back of the reader s mind You can almost feel what is going to happen next before your eyes even read the words.His father s fears and warnings prove justified when his grandfather clouts him across the head with his cup Shouting at him that the blow was for creeping up on him Again, the reader already knows from this terrible and sudden act of violence what type of man the grandfather is.We learn that Hamnet s twin sister Judith is desperately ill and her illness is why Hamnet has been looking for somebody to help.This part of the novel takes part in the present the next chapter will return to the past before Shakespeare, who is never named in the novel, is yet to wed Agnes, Hamnet s mother This structure is used for the entirety of the novel alternating back and forth between past and present.Both parts of the novel, past and present are extremely interesting There are touches of magical realism with Agnes being portrayed as having the power to see the future and spirits And her extensive knowledge and use of herbs and tinctures enhances people s perception that she is a bit of a witch.The chapters that take place in the past are used to build Agnes and Shakespeare s history, but they also tell the story of the plague and O farrell s idea of how this pestilence was transferred to Judith.The chapters that take place in the present are almost exclusively used to describe the incredible, indelible pain that the parents are going through and how they manage, or perhaps fail to manage with it.O farrell s prose is stunning and poetic The passages used to describe Agnes grief and spiral into desolation are some of the best I have read in quite a while What O farrell does with the play Hamlet , and why Shakespeare has written it the way he has, concludes the book in, although tremendously sorrowful and heartbreaking, a brilliant ending Make no mistake, this is a novel steeped in misery and melancholy, but one that is beautifully, almost poetically written 5 Stars Maggie O Farrell is an author I ve always enjoyed reading but I think Hamnet will be one of my favourites In 1596 Hamnet Hamlet names are interchangeable the son of William Shakespeare died, cause unknown This captivating story takes us backwards and forwards from 1580 to 1599 to the writing of Hamlet In 1580 our would be actor and playwright is transfixed by his first sight of Agnes Anne Hathaway as he tries without great success to tutor her reluctant stepbrothers We get a glimpse of h Maggie O Farrell is an author I ve always enjoyed reading but I think Hamnet will be one of my favourites In 1596 Hamnet Hamlet names are interchangeable the son of William Shakespeare died, cause unknown This captivating story takes us backwards and forwards from 1580 to 1599 to the writing of Hamlet In 1580 our would be actor and playwright is transfixed by his first sight of Agnes Anne Hathaway as he tries without great success to tutor her reluctant stepbrothers We get a glimpse of his life at home with his tempestuous and violent father John who is a glove maker, mother Mary and sister Eliza We watch as love grows between William and Agnes who has a Cinderella life with her harsh stepmother Joan, who is contemptuous of Agnes skills with herbs and magical powers We are invited to their wedding and glimpse their family life You hold your breath as the events unfold that lead to Hamnet s death and it s impact upon them and we are in the audience at the premier of the play in his name Where to start This is so well written and in a style appropriate to the century It s lively, vivid and captures late Elizabethan times so well that you feel you have been transported back You are dazzled by the sights, you smell the pungent smells and are a witness to the harsh and hard reality of the times The images are so colourful as are the characters Agnes is wonderful, William is an enigma but Agnes understands him well, Hamnet is a clever dreamer and so close to twin sister Judith they are halves of a whole This wonderful storyline includes magical beliefs, myths and superstitions of the time It s an emotional ride too as there s hatred, selfishness, bitterness, fear, anger, agony and overwhelming sadness but also deep love You come to understand how William ends up in London and several days journey from his family and how he gets drawn into writing and the world of theatre The ending is especially affecting and is a very powerful end to a tale you feel connected to Overall, this book is stunningly beautiful I love this period and Shakespeare s plays somethan others and was lucky enough last summer to see a production of Hamlet at the Rose Theatre in York, a replica of an Elizabethan playhouse, so I guess Maggie O Farrell already had me However, it doesn t matter if you are not a fan of the work of the Bard because this is storytelling at its best Highly recommended and an easy five stars Thanks to NetGalley and especially to Headline Group for the privilege of the ARC Drawing On Maggie O Farrell S Long Term Fascination With The Little Known Story Behind Shakespeare S Most Enigmatic Play, HAMNET Is A Luminous Portrait Of A Marriage, At Its Heart The Loss Of A Beloved Child Warwickshire In The S Agnes Is A Woman As Feared As She Is Sought After For Her Unusual Gifts She Settles With Her Husband In Henley Street, Stratford, And Has Three Children A Daughter, Susanna, And Then Twins, Hamnet And Judith The Boy, Hamnet, Dies In , Aged Eleven Four Years Or So Later, The Husband Writes A Play Called Hamlet Award Winning Author Maggie O Farrell S New Novel Breathes Full Blooded Life Into The Story Of A Loss Usually Consigned To Literary Footnotes, And Provides An Unforgettable Vindication Of Agnes, A Woman Intriguingly Absent From History Then Judith is in a crowd It is night time, cold the glow of lanterns punctuates the freezing dark She thinks it is the Candlemas fair She is in and also above a crowd on a pair of strong shoulders Her father Her legs grip his neck and he holds her by each ankle she has buried her hands in his hair Thick dark hair he has like Susanna s She uses the smallest of her fingers to tap the silver hoop in his left ear He laughs at this she feels the rumble of it, like thunder, pass froThen Judith is in a crowd It is night time, cold the glow of lanterns punctuates the freezing dark She thinks it is the Candlemas fair She is in and also above a crowd on a pair of strong shoulders Her father Her legs grip his neck and he holds her by each ankle she has buried her hands in his hair Thick dark hair he has like Susanna s She uses the smallest of her fingers to tap the silver hoop in his left ear He laughs at this she feels the rumble of it, like thunder, pass from his body to hers and shakes his head to make the earring rattle against her fingernail The frantic steps of a young boy disturb the peaceful summer day in a town in Warwickshire His house echoes his almost erratic search for any member of his family But the house is empty His parents nowhere to be found He begs the dusty roads of the village to bring him help because his beloved twin sister is dying He begs Fate to exorcise the Black Rider who has decided to reside in their house, looking for a victim to snatchThe Latin verbs roll on and on around him, like a fenland fog, through his feet up and over his shoulders, past his ears, to seep out of the cracks in the window lead He allows the chanted words to merge into an oral blur that fills the room, right to its high, blackened rafters Dear God, what a masterpiece When every writer who wants to pass Historical Romance scribbles as Literature , when ridiculous plays and evenridiculous film dare to meddle with the Bard and especially with his wife s enigmatic figure, one can t help being apprehensive But not when you are in the gracious, blessed hands of Maggie O Farrell What can I possibly say about Hamnet An ode to womanhood, motherhood, family and the fragility of daily life that should never be taken for grantedThe trees could be seen from the back windows, tossing their restless heads on windy days, shaking their bare and twisted fists in winter O Farrell brings us the tragic story of Shakespeare s family, focused on his son and his wife, two incredible characters Her writing is quiet, mystifying, haunting A breath of a hazy, lyrical summer and the sadness of golden autumn There is beauty and there are pain and Death Physical loss and the thwarting of the dreams of youth The loss of faith and the unimaginable horror of losing a child Hamnet is rich in literary beauty and O Farrell inserts brief, poignant scenes that define the tone and the spirit of the story The terrifying figure of the Plague Doctor, a woman s unbreakable bond with Nature, William s wanderlust, the sequence of the coming of the pestilence in Warwickshire, a brother s ache for his sister s ordeal, a mother s despair, a father s helplessness, the cries for a ghost of a beloved presenceShe has a certain notoriety in these parts It is said that she is strange, touched, peculiar, perhaps mad He has heard that she wanders the back roads and forest at will, unaccompanied, collecting plants to make dubious potions Perhaps the most demanding aspect in this novel is the characterization and O Farrell creates wonders Agnes see the moving Author s Note that clarifies why Anne became Agnes is an extraordinary character Intelligent, brave, sensitive, deeply connected with Nature, firm in her beliefs William is a gentle man, trying to balance his love for her and his calling Hamnet is one of the most moving, developed and memorable characters His pain and sense of helplessness and the fact that we know his fate will break your heart His sisters, Susanna and Judith, are equally enchanting and beautifully drawnI ll walk backwards, he says, backing away, so I can keep you in my sights All the way to London If I have to She laughs You ll fall into a ditch You ll crash into a cart So be it It is said that this tragic loss was the driving force behind the creation of Hamlet The Bard would be proud of Maggie O Farrell s masterpiece And I don t need to tire youThe following extracts speak for themselvesSummer is an assault The long evenings, the warm air wafting through the windows, the slow progress of the river through the windows, the slow progress of the river through the town, the shouts of children playing late in the street, the horses flicking floes from their flanks, the hedgerows heavy with flowers and berries Autumn, when it comes, is terrible too The sharpness on the air, early in the morning The mist gathering in the yard The hens fussing and murmuring in their pen, refusing to come out The leaves crisping at their edges Here is a season Hamnet has not known or touched Here is a world moving without him Night time in the town, a deep, black silence lies over the streets, broken only by the hollow lilt of an owl, calling for its mate A breeze slips invisibly, insistently through the streets, like a burglar seeking an entrance It plays with the tops of the trees, tipping them one way, then the other It shivers inside the church bell, making the brass vibrate with a single low note It ruffles the feathers of the lonely owl, sitting on a rooftop near the church Many thanks to Knopf Publishing Group and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.My reviews can also be found on Shortlisted for the Women s Prize 2020This is another very strong contender for this year s Women s Prize It is a historical novel, but because the events and lives O Farrell describes are almost entirely undocumented she has muchfreedom to imagine details than Hilary Mantel does in The Mirror the Light As she also explains in her afterword, O Farrell changed a few minor details and names, but there is historical evidence from her father s will for her choice to name her most important Shortlisted for the Women s Prize 2020This is another very strong contender for this year s Women s Prize It is a historical novel, but because the events and lives O Farrell describes are almost entirely undocumented she has muchfreedom to imagine details than Hilary Mantel does in The Mirror the Light As she also explains in her afterword, O Farrell changed a few minor details and names, but there is historical evidence from her father s will for her choice to name her most important character Agnes, rather than Anne Hathaway Shakespeare himself plays a supporting role, because at heart the book is about Stratford, and for the family there what he does in London is almost unknown.The book is divided into two very different parts In the first, the events that led to the death of Hamnet alternate with the story of William and Agnes s courtship and early marriage The second, which forms a single long chapter, deals with the aftermath of the death and focuses particularly on Agnes and her grief Overall, this is an impressive and moving book We will never know how close to reality it gets, but apart from a few supernatural elements the story is mostly plausible I would not be surprised or disappointed if this wins the Women s Prize and goes on to further recognition from the Booker Grief fills the room up of my absent child,Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,Remembers me of all his gracious parts,Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form William Shakespeare The Life and Death of King John No one knows for sure what caused the death of Hamnet Shakespeare in 1596, at the tender age of 11 Likewise, little is known about his mother Agnes aka Anne Hathaway Hamnet imagines the lives behind these historical footnotes S Grief fills the room up of my absent child,Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,Remembers me of all his gracious parts,Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form William Shakespeare The Life and Death of King John No one knows for sure what caused the death of Hamnet Shakespeare in 1596, at the tender age of 11 Likewise, little is known about his mother Agnes aka Anne Hathaway Hamnet imagines the lives behind these historical footnotes Shakespeare himself is never named and apart from a glancing brush with Hamlet, this novel doesn t engage explicitly with the Bard s work There are no overt references, instead they are shrouded twins swapping places, Agnes appearing to be dressed as a boy, a suspected witch named for a Rowan tree It may disappoint some readers that this rich vein is not exploited further Instead, the focus is on domestic life in Stratford a courtship birthing babies Hamnet s connection with twin sister Judith the family s profound anguish at the boy s loss.Equally, the story is not over burdened with historical facts, which are altered, elided, or given the merest subtle nod, as needed Hamnet and Judith Sadler, the twins namesakes, pop up briefly as the baker and his wife There is an oblique reference to the famous second best bed bequeathed later by Shakespeare to Agnes More space is given to animals squirrels and cats and birds and bees and fleas and a monkey the novel teems with these small creatures and their fleeting lives Creative license bends to the novel s purpose For instance, staging Hamlet in 1600 the actual date is unknown thus ducking the death of Shakespeare s father in 1601, and any influence his passing may have had on the play It might seem implausible that the plum role of Hamlet would go toa lad halfway between man and boyand not say, Richard Burbage, but this too serves O Farrell s aim of mapping Hamlet directly to the death of the boy Hamnet This novel is an imaginative work of historical fiction and an eloquent meditation on grief and loss At that level it s quite lovely, and it soars in the intimate moments, such as when Agnes enters the graveyardwith three children and she leaves it with twoIt does lose its way slightly in the attempted link to the famous play a poetic idea but an unconvincing one Update See comments for my notes in the author s interview with Peter Florence at the 2020 virtual Hay Festival This book was on my radar since the Guardian s Alex Preston in his 2020 preview said it was the book that might beat Hilary Mantel to her third Booker Now both go head to head for the Women s Prize.My thematic thoughts on the book including some extensive quotes, best read after completion of the book COMPARISONS TO MANTEL AND GREGORY STYLE OF FIRST TWO THIRDSAnd comparisons Update See comments for my notes in the author s interview with Peter Florence at the 2020 virtual Hay Festival This book was on my radar since the Guardian s Alex Preston in his 2020 preview said it was the book that might beat Hilary Mantel to her third Booker Now both go head to head for the Women s Prize.My thematic thoughts on the book including some extensive quotes, best read after completion of the book COMPARISONS TO MANTEL AND GREGORY STYLE OF FIRST TWO THIRDSAnd comparisons to Mantel s book are inevitable a book set in the 16th Century, featuring a famous Englishmen in an unfamiliar way, and written in a third person point of view present tense A comparison made eveninevitable when the book s opening lines include a confused child and the wordsHe stumbles as he lands, falling to his knees on the flagstone floorwhich to the reader immediately evokes Mantel s opening words of he trilogyhe has fallen knocked full length on the cobbles of the yardwhich follow the now famousSo now get up.There however the two books depart both in subject matter and style Whereas Cromwell is the sole focus of Mantel s book s , so much so that the third party style is really as close as possible to a first party narrative Shakespeare, while featuring as a point of view character, is very much a tertiary one and in fact only ever referred to in indirect terms the tutor, the husband, the father , with the narrative initially started by his son Hamnet twin to Judith and largely sustained by his wife Agnes perhaps better know to us as Ann Hathaway.With as an aside a throwaway line later in the book which links to almost all we know of her via the reference in her husband s willShe refuses to give up her bed, saying it was the bed she was married in and she will not have another, so the new, grander bed is put in the room for guests Agnes herself is portrayed as following her dead mother as something of a white witch folk and natural healer forest folk mystical diviner I was inevitably reminded less of Mantel andof that other great modern day chronicler of the Tudor Court Philippa Gregory, and in particular her Cousins War series and particularly the character of Jacquetta of Luxembourg and her relationship with Elizabeth Woodville in White Queen and Lady of the Rivers That is not to damn the book with faint praise, both books are excellent, but it was a little unexpected in a purely literary novel Like Gregory, O Farrell uses this as a way for a female to gain strong agency in a fundamentally patriarchal society at least in this section we see that Anne s pregnancy, resulting marriage and even Will s move to London are all engineered by her.And while Mantel s tale sustains throughout a sense of immediacy, of imminent peril, of ever present danger in a court subject to the arbitrary caprices of a tyrant, for the first two thirds of the book, this is written in an indirect, very distanced style The style of course reflects the character not a necessarily paranoid man of the world, painstakingly aware of the precariousness of his ascent and the multitude wishing his fall but instead someone who is by their very identity other worldly, possessed of both ancient knowledge and foresight and who therefore operates at a necessary remove from both the here and the now This style though does make the first two thirds of the book at times a rather too languid experience MIRRORINGOne interesting break is a section where we trace the course of the plague For the pestilence to reach Warwickshire, England, in the summer of 1596, two events need to occur in the lives of two separate people, and then these people need to meet The first is a glassmaker on the island of Murano in the principality of Venice the second is a cabin boy on a merchant ship sailing for Alexandria on an unseasonably warm morning with an easterly wind And this account is very cleverly mirrored a little later in an account of the convoluted passage of a letter sent to Shakespeare telling him of Judith s seemingly imminent death with even some small details mirrored such as some unevenly balanced baskets.Mirroring being a crucial theme of the book with Judith and Hamnet as slightly odd twins seemingly identical other than in their sex It s like a mirror, he had said Or that they are one person split down the middle Their twoHe feels again the sensation he has had all his life that she is the other side to him, that they fit together, him and her, like two halves of a walnut That without her he is incomplete, lost He will carry an open wound, down his side, for the rest of his life, where she had been ripped from him How can he live without her He cannot It is like asking the heart to live without the lungs, like tearing the moon out of the sky and asking the stars to do its work, like expecting the barley to grow without rain Tears are appearing on her cheeks now, like silver seeds, as if by magic He knows they are his, falling from his eyes on to her face, but they could just as easily be hers They are one and the same You shall be well, she murmurs He grips her fingers in anger I shall not He passes his tongue over his lips, tasting salt I ll come with you We ll go togetherIdeas which the author expands into a plot point which of course draws on the use of mistaken identity and doubles in their father s work Then the idea strikes him He doesn t know why he hadn t thought of it before It occurs to Hamnet, as he crouches there, next to her, that it might be possible to hoodwink Death, to pull off the trick he and Judith have been playing on people since they were young to exchange places and clothes, leading people to believe that each was the otherMODERN DAY RESONANCEAnother fascinating aspect of this first section which effectively leads up to the real life death of Hamnet is the many accidental resonances with our present day situation, resonances which I suspect increase the already high chances of this book winning literary prize acclaim.The way the plague spreads not just in England but also in Northern Italy and the links between the two The fleas that leapt from the dying rats into their striped fur crawl down into these boxes and take up residence in the rags padding the hundreds of tiny, multi coloured millefiori beads the same rags put there by the fellow worker of the master glassmaker the same glassmaker who is now in Murano, where the glassworks is at a standstill, because so many of the workers are falling ill with a mysterious and virulent fever The inadequacy of Personal Protective Equipment for English medical staff It is tall, cloaked in black, and in the place of a face is a hideous, featureless mask, pointed like the beak of a gigantic bird No, Hamnet cries, get away Then his grandmother is there, pushing him aside, apologising to the spectre, as if there is nothing out of the ordinary about it, inviting it to step into the house, to examine the patient Hamnet takes a step backwards and another He collides with his mother, Don t be afraid, she whispers It is only the physician TheHamnet stares at him, still there on the doorstep, talking with his grandmother But why is heHamnet gestures to his face, his nose He wears that mask because he thinks it will protect him, she says From the pestilence His mother nods And will it His mother purses her lips, then shakes her head I don t think soLockdowns The spectre is speaking without a mouth, saying he will not come in, he cannot, and they, the inhabitants, are hereby ordered not to go out, not to take to the streets, but to remain indoors until the pestilence is past The guilty upside of the events for children of busy parents If the plague comes to London, he can be back with them for months The playhouses are all shut, by order of the Queen, and no one is allowed to gather in public It is wrong to wish for plague, her mother has said, but Susanna has done this a few times under her breath, at night, after she has said her prayers She always crosses herself afterwards But still she wishes it Her father home, for months, with them She sometimes wonders if her mother secretly wishes it too Misplaced faith in unlikely treatments hydroxychloroquin anyoneMadam, the physician says, and again his beak swings towards them, you may trust that I know muchabout these matters than you do A dried toad, applied to the abdomen for several days, has proven to have great efficacy in cases such as these And the realisation that whatever contingency planning healers have done is powerless in the face of what they are confronted with She thinks of her garden, of her shelves of powders, potions, leaves, liquids, with incredulity, with rage What good has any of that been What point was there to any of it All those years and years of tending and weeding and pruning and gathering She would like to go outside and rip up those plants by their roots and fling them into the fire She is a fool, an ineffectual, prideful fool How could she ever have thought that her plants might be a match for thisFINAL THIRD GEORGE SAUNDERSAny frustration at the slightly slow pace of the first parts, is really overcome in the final section, which deals with the aftermath of Hamnet s death Following on from Agnes s realisation both that her healing powers were inadequate in the face of plague and that her foresight has actually mislead her and forced her to concentrate on the wrong risks Judith rather than Hamnet she is thrust back into the real world and the removal of time and place is taken away.What we get instead is a fierce and painful examination of the grief of a mother and aoblique examination of how that grief played out in the work of her husband.Of the way it unmoors all of our pretensions to control What is given may be taken away, at any time Cruelty and devastation wait for you around corners, inside coffers, behind doors they can leap out at you at any moment, like a thief or brigand The trick is never to let down your guard Never think you are safe Never take for granted that your children s hearts beat, that they sup milk, that they draw breath, that they walk and speak and smile and argue and play Never for a moment forget they may be gone, snatched from you, in the blink of an eye, borne away from you like thistledown That includes a moving burial scene which cannot help remind the reader of another Booker winner Lincoln in the Bardo It is evendifficult, Agnes finds, to leave the graveyard, than it was to enter it So many graves to walk past, so many sad and angry ghosts tugging at her skirts, touching her with their cold fingers, pulling at her, naggingly, piteously, saying, Don t go, wait for us, don t leave us here And then moves into helplessness And Agnes finds she can bear anything except her child s pain She can bear separation, sickness, blows, birth, deprivation, hunger, unfairness, seclusion, but not this her child, looking down at her dead twin Her child, sobbing for her lost brother Her child, racked with grief HAMNET AND HIS FATHER S WORKAgnes realises that rather than bringing her family together her husband will instead move away from her and be absorbed in his work her influence over him declining with her powers leaving her not so much for London butthe place in your head I saw it once, a long time ago, a whole country in there, a landscape You have gone to that place and it is nowreal to you than anywhere else Nothing can keep you from it Not even the death of your own child I see this,That and this was one of the inspirations for the writing of this book that he will never reference plague directly in his work as has already been noted by his daughter even in his speech It is also plague season again in London and the playhouses are shut This is never said aloud Judith notes the absence of this word during his visits That a playwright who gave so many words to the English language is not even available to help his family find the words that they need What is the word, Judith asks her mother, for someone who was a twin but is no longer a twinBut, in a tour de force ending to this excellent book that he will examine the death in his own way and via his most famous play Hamlet, here, on this stage, is two people, the young man, alive, and the father, dead He is both alive and dead Her husband has brought him back to life, in the only way he can As the ghost talks, she sees that her husband, in writing this, in taking the role of the ghost, has changed places with his son He has taken his son s death and made it his own he has put himself in death s clutches, resurrecting the boy in his place O horrible O horrible Most horrible murmurs her husband s ghoulish voice, recalling the agony of his death He has, Agnes sees, done what any father would wish to do, to exchange his child s suffering for his own, to take his place, to offer himself up in his child s stead so that the boy might live. Yes you read that correctly, it s Hamnet, not Hamlet Hamnet was William Shakespeare s son, something I never realised until I came across this novel Little is known about the boy other than the fact that he died aged 11 A short time later, the Bard wrote the play Hamlet, about a prince who suffers an untimely death Was this famous tragedy, as Maggie O Farrell suggests, inspired by a real life one The first half of the story alternates between two timelines Hamnet is home alone in Stratford Yes you read that correctly, it s Hamnet, not Hamlet Hamnet was William Shakespeare s son, something I never realised until I came across this novel Little is known about the boy other than the fact that he died aged 11 A short time later, the Bard wrote the play Hamlet, about a prince who suffers an untimely death Was this famous tragedy, as Maggie O Farrell suggests, inspired by a real life one The first half of the story alternates between two timelines Hamnet is home alone in Stratford with his twin sister Judith He scans the house, searching desperately for a grown up It is Judith who has suddenly fallen ill, and Hamnet, an intelligent boy, knows that something is terribly wrong His mother Agnes is out tending to her beehives, and his father is far away in London His grandfather, a glove maker, is nearby but Hamnet knows better than to bother this hot tempered fellow In flashbacks we discover how Hamnet s father often clashed with his old man, and learned to stay out of his way William was an aimless Latin tutor until he met the free spirited Agnes An intense courtship ensued and the pair married, to the delight of neither family Agnes is famous for her homeopathic remedies and when she returns to find Judith sick, she immediately recognises the gravity of the situation She sends word to her husband, telling him to come home as fast as he can, so that he might see his daughter one last time.From what I understand, this is O Farrell s first foray into historical fiction She has taken to it in some style Though knowledge of Hamnet Shakespeare is thin on the ground, she brings the boy to life, an inquisitive, energetic child His cause of death is unknown but it is entirely plausible that the Plague was to blame A marvellous section imagines the disease s journey from Egypt to England, via a monkey flea Agnes commonly known as Anne is aprominent character than her husband in the story A major turning point involves her attempts to solve William s depression, and understanding that a new life in London was the only solution, despite the difficulties this would bring upon their family I believe the first half of the book is stronger especially when Judith is the child who is so gravely ill, you read on wondering how Hamnet was the one who died After his passing, the story loses momentum The family are understandably mired in grief It is only towards the end that they manage to accept their tragic circumstances and move on But on the whole, this is a wonderful novel inventive, heartfelt and beautifully imagined I have to admit that I was a little nervous going into this one for two reasons I sometimes have a hard time with fictionalized accounts of real people I m always questioning how realistic they are and at the same time having to keep reminding myself that they re fiction Perhaps because not much is known about Shakespeare s wife Anne or Agnes, her birth name, as she is called in the novel, that I found the imagining to be so captivating Even though I still wondered how much might be true, O I have to admit that I was a little nervous going into this one for two reasons I sometimes have a hard time with fictionalized accounts of real people I m always questioning how realistic they are and at the same time having to keep reminding myself that they re fiction Perhaps because not much is known about Shakespeare s wife Anne or Agnes, her birth name, as she is called in the novel, that I found the imagining to be so captivating Even though I still wondered how much might be true, O Farrell s beautiful rendition stands as brilliant story telling The other thing that worried me is that this novel just seemed so different from the other novels by Maggie O Farrell She s one of my favorite writers and I didn t want to be disappointed I wasn t in the least and after thinking about this for a bit, I had to up my original four stars to five While it s a different kind of story than what she has written before, I found the same beautiful writing and stunning depiction of emotion that I loved in all her other novels.The bard himself is not the main character on this stage His name is not mentioned once He is the son of John and Mary, the husband of Agnes, the father of Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith, but never called by name The focus is not on his plays, except for one, titled after his son Hamnet, who in the book dies at eleven of the plague How we see the play in the end through Agnes s eyes and heart was one of the most moving scenes of the novel This felt from the beginning for me like Agnes s story Her story begins in an is almost fairy tale like way, as a girl belonging to a forest, remembering her mother, learning the power of plants and the meaning of her premonitions She meets the Latin tutor, son of the glove maker and when they marry, she moves to Henley Street in Stratford with him The narrative alternatives from 1596 just before Hamnet dies and with Agnes s early life, the time of their marriage and the years in between Life in these times and in this place feels historically accurate, even if we really never will know the details of their family life, the death of their son The most realistic thing of all was the stunning portrayal of a family s grief, especially a mother s grief As Agnes prepares for Hamnet s burial, when she goes to his grave or can t bear to part with his clothes, I felt the depth of her grief.I loved reading about Stratford, the family house and Agnes s birthplace Although I don t remember details, I was there on Henley Street around thirty years ago at Shakespeare s birthplace house and Anne Agnes Hathway s house which is on the property there as well I felt a warm connection knowing that I had been there once I recommend this to lovers of historical fiction and most definitely to fans of Maggie O Farrell I received an advanced copy of this book from Knopf Random House through Edelweiss An emotionally charged novel about grief after the death of a child It takes a master author to create a story with scant background documents that goes deep, deep into a reader s heart I admire the worlds Ms O Farrell created of Agnes, of her childhood, life with her husband, and of motherly love and painSome scenes were so moving that I felt physical sensation while reading them For a reader to experience a novel in this way is a gift from the author.


About the Author: Maggie O'Farrell

Maggie O Farrell born 1972, Coleraine Northern Ireland is a British author of contemporary fiction, who features in Waterstones 25 Authors for the Future It is possible to identify several common themes in her novels the relationship between sisters is one, another is loss and the psychological impact of those losses on the lives of her characters.


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