Although set only a few years before the seventeenth century, Hamnet is well worth a review on this website. It has been an enormously successful novel and I was intrigued about it since I first heard about it.
As many know, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, married Anne Hathaway, and the couple had three children: Susanna, and twins, Hamnet and Judith. It shouldn’t come as a spoiler that the son, Hamnet, died at the age of just eleven. Life and loss and chance are key elements of this novel, which was beautifully crafted.
O’Farrell has created an almost ethereal world for Shakespeare’s family, but there is an earthiness, too. With Agnes, it is of a woman closely attuned to nature and deeply knowledgeable about natural remedies. Modern-day Stratford-Upon-Avon remains a fascinating town, steeped in history and full of Early Modern architecture. O’Farrell brings that community to life richly, but surprisingly without great description. Although I tend to enjoy much more detail in historical fiction, it nevertheless worked for me.
Hamnet weaves in and out of time. Although Shakespeare himself is rendered a secondary character, his wife, Anne (referred to throughout as Agnes), takes a more central focus for the novel, which I found quite surprising and interesting. I wouldn’t even say the titular character was the main character, but he is certainly a keystone of the work.
I personally found the book very moving, particularly since I lost my own son over the summer. The profound loss of Hamnet for his parents and siblings echoed in my own life, striking me to my soul at times.
In short, I found Hamnet an ethereal, beautiful, and moving read. The hardback edition, by the way, is stunning as an object, with the gold foil decoration, and is now amongst my ‘pretty’ books in the living room.