Hamnet

Hamnet

My sister bought me Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell for my birthday (see my blog on I Am, I Am, I Am by the same author) and I read it whilst down in Devon this summer. It is set in 1596 around what seems like a normal family of a husband, wife and three children, except for the fact that the husband is William Shakespeare. He is often off in London putting on plays and his healer wife Agnes is left behind with their eldest daughter Susanna and their twins Judith and Hamnet, and they are always delighted when he comes home. William is deeply in love with Agnes, but first doesn’t have the money to bring the family to London and then accepts that his daughter Judith’s health would not allow them to live there permanently, and so the family remains divided.

The novel alternates between William and Agnes’ courtship and early married life, and the discovery of the sickness of the twins that puts the their lives in danger, and which ultimately leads to Hamnet’s death. The first half of the book is a delight, even though you know what is coming, but reading about the death of Hamnet and witnessing his parents grief was really tough. It is so beautifully written that it cuts you to the quick and it left me with tears in my eyes. Agnes and William become increasingly estranged when he insists on returning to London soon after Hamnet’s death, and then deals with his grief by writing Hamlet. When Agnes hears of this, from local gossips rather than from him, she is shocked and horrified and travels for the first time down to London to see the play and to confront William.

This is a fantastic book, which takes you through a gamut of emotions.