Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (One of my favorite books of the year.)

I never expected to read a book about the plague during a pandemic. I’ve done my best to keep away from dark thoughts, considering illness or death. But, when I began Hamnet, checked out as an ebook from our local library, I knew I needed a copy of my own…a copy through which I could meander at my own pace, relishing every well-chosen word, not worrying about the due date when the library would whisk it back unwillingly from me.

Maggie O’Farrell imagines Shakespeare’s life for us, while never revealing his name. She brings forth his wife, his parents, his home in Stratford more vividly than any play could reveal. Most importantly of all, she brings his son, Hamnet, to life. Even in his death, for we see the excruciating effect it has on his mother, his father, and their marriage.

In the opening pages he comes down the stairs, looking for someone, anyone, to help him. For his twin sister, Judith, is ill. They had been playing with the kittens in the yard, and then Judith had to lay down, and now she is not only pale, and clammy; there are two buboes showing under her skin. Bumps with an ominous threat of death.

Hamnet’s illness takes his mother by surprise, for she had been concocting remedies from her plants, her herbs, her tinctures, to help her daughter. And when Hamnet dies, she is full of self-blame for not seeing it, for not being able to prevent it.

I felt her recriminations towards herself as fiercely as my own. What mother doesn’t wish to take her child’s suffering upon herself, doesn’t long to pave a path for a long, fulfilling life for her child, doesn’t imagine all the thoughts about what could have been? For me, Maggie O’Farrell’s genius in this book was in brilliantly portraying Hamnet’s mother, even more so than his famous father.

It broke my heart, while making me feel not quite so alone in my own motherly sorrows.

8 thoughts on “Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (One of my favorite books of the year.)”

    1. This is the only book of hers I have read, but I am astounded at how powerful I found it to be. So glad that it won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. I am sure your book club will have a fascinating discussion for it; wish I could be there!

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  1. Hello Bellezza! I hope you’re doing well and that the rules of your local nature preserve have loosened sufficiently for you to be able to enjoy your healing times with the outdoors. I know exactly what you mean about avoiding dark thoughts & negativity; it’s difficult to do in these awful times. I haven’t been quite as successful as you, I’m afraid; although I’m able to read, the writing has become almost impossible.
    I loved your review for Hamet, which has now moved into my “must get a copy” list (next step: it goes on Mount TBR, similar to Mt Everest but taller). It really sounds like a wonderful read but something that I’d need some space and time for. Perhaps in that late December-early January period, when I tend to get some nice things read. Stay well and keeping doing your wonderful reviews!

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  2. Your review solidifies my resolve to avoid reading this book until after I can see my children again. This will be the first Thanksgiving we’ve had to spend on our own, and we’re sad enough about that without adding the experience of grief for a child lost during a plague.

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  3. I have read so many good reviews on this book. I am a fan of Maggie O’Farrell as well. It is already on my list. Maybe I will do the same as you, hoping they have it as an e-book at the library.

    Liked by 1 person

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