by Maggie O’Farrell

Download Reading Guide

book cover

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

Bookshop, $25



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.)

Author photo


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.



novel books

Unconventional Thrillers, Stories with Staying Power, and the Brightest Fiction of Fall 2020

novel books

7 Debut Books to Devour

Readers love a first-timer. And we love this collection of debut memoirs…

short books

The Summer 2020 Book List

From Trinidad to Hong Kong to Tehran to Kolkata to Puglia to the…

subversive books

13 Subversive Books to Binge-Read

PhD-level witchery. A society that throws out any…

short books

12 New Books Keeping Us Company

Love affairs, a tale of the piano graveyard in Siberia, and a…

beach books

From Beach Reads to Books That Will Blow Your Mind

Lots of sex. Lots of swimming. Dating apps. Boarding…

We hope you enjoy the books recommended here. Our goal is to suggest only things we love and think you might, as well. We also like transparency, so, full disclosure: We may collect a share of sales or other compensation if you purchase through the external links on this page.