by Maggie O’Farrell
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Why We Chose It
In Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell delivers an entrancing drama about a propulsive and passionate
marriage and a young boy that history has forgotten. The story begins when a young Latin teacher with
little money and a few demons meets Agnes, who is, at the time, walking her family’s land with a falcon on
her hand. Agnes is seductive and intuitive, perhaps a little wild, perhaps an extraordinary healer,
perhaps destined to be a devoted mother, and perhaps the force that will shape that man’s life, career,
and legacy. That man happens to be William Shakespeare (although, in a clever twist, he is never named
directly in the novel). Whether you know a lot or essentially nothing about Shakespeare: Prepare to be
surprised. O’Farrell is going to stretch your imagination and—we’d bet—your heart, too.
Set in England in the 1580s (during an outbreak of the Black Death), Hamnet is the kind of historical fiction that transports you across time and space while making you feel as if the action is unspooling in front of you, now. It’s a mesmerizing portrait of the course a family takes through grief and of the conflict and joy they find in the pursuit of love. It won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It is unforgettable.
Start by reading an excerpt and then pick up a copy of the novel: You can see all retailers selling the hardcover, e-book, and audio editions here.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
WATCH THE CHAT
We corralled questions from readers and Maggie O’Farrell answered.
About the Author
Born in Northern Ireland in 1972, Maggie O’Farrell grew up in Wales and Scotland and now lives in Edinburgh. She is the author of The Hand That First Held Mine (winner of the Costa Novel Award); Instructions for a Heatwave; This Must Be the Place; and most recently, the memoir I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death. (Also, she wrote a moving piece about motherhood on goop a couple years ago.)
A Q&A with MAGGIE O’FARRELL
How did the idea for this novel come to you?
My interest in Hamnet, the boy, started a long time ago. I was sixteen, and I was studying Hamlet. I had this fabulous English teacher, and he mentioned in passing one day that Shakespeare had a son who died at the age of eleven and he was called Hamnet. And that Shakespeare had gone on several years later to write this play. Even at age sixteen, even though I was a long way off from being a parent and further off from being a writer, it struck me. I thought that was a very significant act.
Because Shakespeare is such a mysterious character. We know so little about him, the man. We have this enormous wealth of his work, but his life, his biography, what kind of a person he was is very, very shadowy. There are lots and lots of gaps in his story. But it seems to me that this one single act—calling probably your most famous play and your most tragic hero after your dead son—is enormously important. It’s telling us a lot.
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