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4.31  ·  Rating details ·  69,681 ratings  ·  10,123 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book (2020)
Best Book of 2020: Guardian, Financial Times, Literary Hub, and NPR

A thrilling departure: A short, piercing, deeply moving new novel from the acclaimed author of I Am, I Am, I Am, about the death of Shakespeare's eleven-year-old son Hamnet--a name interchangeable with Hamlet in fifteenth-century Britain--and the years leading up to the p
Hardcover, 310 pages
Published July 21st 2020 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published March 31st 2020)
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Mary Czarnecki You also may want to check out a movie called "All Is True" with Kenneth Branagh & Judy Dench. It has some of the same elements-- Will Shakespeare com…moreYou also may want to check out a movie called "All Is True" with Kenneth Branagh & Judy Dench. It has some of the same elements-- Will Shakespeare comes home after being gone running his theater in London, writing & putting on plays, to basically a family that he has barely seen in years. His wife, Anne and their remaining children, Susannah & Judith (twin & sister to Hamnet, now deceased) do their best to adjust again to having him home, but long-neglected family issues surface. Anyway, it explores a little-known side story with a real interesting treatment. explores(less)
Kate The author addresses this in the 'Author's Note' section of the book: "Hamnet's sole surviving paternal aunt was called not Eliza but Joan (as was the…moreThe author addresses this in the 'Author's Note' section of the book: "Hamnet's sole surviving paternal aunt was called not Eliza but Joan (as was the eldest sister who predeceased her); I took the liberty of changing it because the doubling up of names, while common in parish records of the time, can be confusing for readers of a novel."(less)

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Hannah Greendale
2020 Best Books of the Year [#02 of 11]

Quite often, the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist contains one book more fanciful than the rest. The rogue book in the lineup usually has unique qualities that manifest either as robust lyricism or as strange yet scintillating content. Occasionally, the longlist offers a book with both qualities (think 2017 Women's Prize longlist nominee, The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill).

It's quite possible Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell is this year's rogue conten
Roman Clodia
I'm clearly in a minority here (again!) but I found this unengaging and flat. There's too much indirect speech and the whole story feels very distanced rather than immediate. O'Farrell talks in the foreword about how she's wanted to write this book for decades, and the result is that it feels laboured, weighted down with expectation that doesn't come to fruition for me.

I especially hated the portrayal of Agnes as one of those almost witchy 'wise women' who abound in historical fiction: fey, wit
Elyse  Walters
Jul 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hamnet was wonderful. My favorite Maggie O’Farrell novel, so far!
It grabbed me from the start....and I wasn’t expecting it to.

I really enjoyed it — I can’t imagine any reader who wouldn’t like it.
Not to worry if you’re Shakespeare-challenged. I mean ‘really’ don’t worry. (I did).... needlessly.

The title seems a little misleading- but for those who haven’t read this yet....I’ll say no more.

Great book to go in blind.
Not only does it not disappoint— it’s SURPRISINGLY MAGNIFICENT.....
The writing i
Angela M
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have to admit that I was a little nervous going into this one for two reasons. I sometimes have a hard time with fictionalized accounts of real people. I’m always questioning how realistic they are and at the same time having to keep reminding myself that they’re fiction. Perhaps because not much is known about Shakespeare’s wife Anne or Agnes, her birth name, as she is called in the novel, that I found the imagining to be so captivating. Even though I still wondered how much might be true, O’ ...more
Jan 11, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021-reads
So apparently being critically acclaimed and award winning still doesn’t make a good book, even when it tries this hard.
“Every life has its kernel, its hub, its epicentre, from which everything flows out, to which everything returns.”

Since this overwritten and overwrought book has not yet met an adjective or a metaphor that it didn’t like and immediately adopt (usually in neat sets of threes) to add to the neverending list of descriptors purpling its melodramatic prose, I’ll throw out a few
Aug 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
“What is given may be taken away, at any time. Cruelty and devastation wait for you around corners, inside coffers, behind doors: they can leap out at you at any moment, like a thief or brigand.”

Without a doubt, this is a brilliantly imagined novel written by one who is quickly becoming a favorite author. I’m afraid I’ll have to explain myself for not singing its praises as effusively as I would have liked, but I’ll get to that later. There are a lot more positives to this than there are negativ
Aug 07, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical-fic
Unpopular opinion ahead

I had no desire to read Hamnet when I first heard of it. Shakespeare gets married, they have kids, one dies, he writes "Hamlet". 

Nope, not interested. Then several of my friends wrote amazing reviews and reeled me in. I was still hesitant but thought, Why not? Just give it a try and DNF if it's not interesting.

Let me tell you. In the beginning I was mesmerized by Maggie O'Farrell's writing. The descriptions made everything so vivid, the setting and characters leapt off the
Once upon a time, I said I would rate this book depending on how memorable it is.

Today, when I looked at the next review I had to write in my line up, I forgot I'd even read this book.

So it's going to be a 2.5 star situation from me.

I don't read historical fiction very often, because the very IDEA of living in a time before showers and readily accessible desserts and the right to vote is more disturbing to me than any horror novel, but something about this book piqued my fancy. Maybe it's that w
Jun 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
An emotionally-charged novel about grief after the death of a child. It takes a master author to create a story with scant background documents that goes deep, deep into a reader's heart. I admire the worlds Ms O'Farrell created of Agnes, of her childhood, life with her husband, and of motherly love and pain...
Some scenes were so moving that I felt physical sensation while reading them. For a reader to experience a novel in this way is a gift from the author.

Violet wells
There's an incredibly powerful and poignant moment in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall when Cromwell's two young daughters die suddenly of the plague. You sense that scene might have had a profound influence on the birth of this novel. Its central event is a plague death. Like Mantel's novels, it's written in the present tense, it's rich with detailed description and it takes a famous figure from history as its protagonist. Where Mantel was daring and adventurous with her imaginative identification wit ...more
Amalia Gkavea
*There is a golden phrase in every language. ''In my opinion''. Some of you need to start using it...*

‘’Then Judith is in a crowd. It is night- time, cold; the glow of lanterns punctuates the freezing dark. She thinks it is the Candlemas fair. She is in and also above a crowd on a pair of strong shoulders. Her father. Her legs grip his neck and he holds her by each ankle; she has buried her hands in his hair. Thick dark hair he has like Susanna’s. She uses the smallest of her fingers to tap t
Jul 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
wow. this story is something else. i picked this up on a whim and i do not regret it.

very early on, i thought this book would be too ‘description’ heavy for my personal liking. there are paragraphs upon paragraphs of very detailed description, so i was unsure if i would connect with this kind of narrative (especially because its written in present tense). but slowly, and ever surely, i became completely absorbed by the end. it definitely creeped up on me.

what i love most about this, though, is h
May 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?

—William Shakespeare (The Life and Death of King John)

No one knows what caused the death of Hamnet Shakespeare in 1596, at the tender age of eleven. Likewise, little is known about his mother Agnes (ak
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this story!
This is a work of fiction about William Shakespeare and Ann Hathaway, their family, and the death of their only son Hamnet who died at 11 yrs of age.
It’s the story of a marriage, and grief....of what life was like in 16th century England in the time of the Black Death plague.
It was a sensual, beautiful and magical story.
The heart of the book is Hamnet’s mother and you feel everything along right with her!

’Remember me.’

Words fail me, or at least words that would be worthy enough of this look into another time, a time that has an almost uncanny resemblance, in some ways, to the current plague that has fallen upon us. But it is also so much more than that, as it exposes the grief that accompanies the loss of the life of a child, and how quickly, and invisibly this plague travels from one place, one creature to another again and again over a short period of time, to land on an innocent person, a
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
I read this ahead of a Book Group in June 2021 having previously read it in early April 2020 (just after the start of lockdown). In the comments below the review I have added my notes from the author’s brilliantly produced interview with Peter Florence at the 2020 virtual Hay Festival.

This book was on my radar since the Guardian’s Alex Preston in his 2020 preview said it was the book that might beat Hilary Mantel to her third Booker.

The book of course beat Hiliary Mantel won the 2020 Women's P
Apr 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At last, I am baptized into the O’Farrell world. And what an awesome discovery.
I was a little nervous picking this one up when I heard Shakespeare. I didn’t think I wanted to read this, but holy moly, I would have missed out on this exquisite writing and fabulous, yet heart wrenching story.

This is a remarkable tale of love.. Of man and woman and parents and children. A devastating death of a twin at the centre. The division that comes with loss. And a new appreciation for that that speech I was
Ron Charles
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
On Aug. 11, 1596, William Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, was buried. He was 11 years old.

Almost nothing more is known about the boy’s brief life. Four centuries later, his death is a crater on the dark side of the moon. How it impacted his twin sister and his parents is impossible to gauge. No letters or diaries — if there were any — survive. The world’s greatest poet did not immortalize his lost child in verse.

Instead, we have only a few tantalizing references in Shakespeare’s plays: the lamen
Diane Barnes
Jul 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Well. I was looking for something very different from the southern novel I had just finished and the one I wanted to start soon, to give me a change of pace. So, a novel set in the sixteenth century about Shakespeare 's wife and family promised that. I have also been wanting to read something by Maggie O'Farrell as I have read some wonderful reviews, so her newest offering checked that box. I knew from the first page that I had chosen well.

What I didn't realize was that this is a work of art. An
Mar 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Maggie O’Farrell is an author I’ve always enjoyed reading but I think Hamnet will be one of my favourites. In 1596 Hamnet/Hamlet (names are interchangeable) the son of William Shakespeare died, cause unknown. This captivating story takes us backwards and forwards from 1580 to 1599 to the writing of Hamlet. In 1580 our would be actor and playwright is transfixed by his first sight of Agnes (Anne) Hathaway as he tries without great success to tutor her reluctant stepbrothers. We get a glimpse of h ...more
Winner of the Women's Prize 2020
This is another very strong contender for this year's Women's Prize. It is a historical novel, but because the events and lives O'Farrell describes are almost entirely undocumented she has much more freedom to imagine details than Hilary Mantel does in The Mirror & the Light.

As she also explains in her afterword, O'Farrell changed a few minor details and names, but there is historical evidence from her father's will for her choice to name her most important chara
Squirmed like a worm

Wait, don’t get excited—it wasn’t the story that made me squirm like a worm. It was me trying to rate this book that sent me into squirm-land. I yelled at myself, “Stop wiggling and just whisper 4 already!...Really, what is the big effing deal? It’s Maggie O’Farrell, that’s what the big effing deal is. Although 3 stars kept screaming in my head, I finally went with what I know is right in this world: I gave it a 3.5 but rounded up to 4. Truly, O’Farrell doesn’t write anything
Diane S ☔
Oct 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shakespeare's Hamlet, how it came to be as well as how Shakespeare became well, Shakespeare. In this excellent retelling, imaginative tale all is unveiled.

If you are looking for a happy little story, this is not one. If, however, you are looking for a story that is brilliantly written, with scenes vividly painted, with emotions so honest they are raw, characters brought to life, than you need look no further. I was brought into lives so artfully portrayed, that I felt with them, lived with them
✨    jay   ✨
Everyone seems to love this but... not for me. Maybe take my opinion with a grain of salt since I'm notoriously picky with historical fiction, and especially ones which fictionalise real people and events. Maybe I just went into it with the wrong expectations given it's marketed as "the heart-stopping story behind Shakespeare's Hamlet" and it's .... really not that.

The story never gripped me. it boasts itself as the illuminating story behind Shakespeare's Hamlet, but the links Maggie O'Farrell
Oh, simply, oh.....

"She grows up fascinated by the hands of others.....A person's ability, their reach, their essence can be gleaned. All that they have held, kept, and all they long to grip is there in that place. It is possible, she realises, to find out everything you need to know about a person just by pressing it."

Maggie O'Farrell gifts us with a novel that seeps into those tiny crevices of the personal experience. She has us grasping those hands that reveal much about their grip, their rou
Sep 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is Maggie o Farrell’s second Historical fiction novel. Having read and Loved The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'FarrellThe Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, I was very excited to read Hamnet.

Hamnet is a fictionalised account of of William Shakespere’s son Hamnet and family and while little is known about his son Hamnet, Maggie O Farrell’s historical fiction novel is beautifully imagined and written and as a reader I enjoyed reading about this forgotten child and the family of the famous playwright. It’s the story of the bond between t
Hamnet is an imaginative take on Shakespeare's courting of his wife Agnes and the early days of their marriage in one narrative timeline and the death of one of his children by bubonic plague in another. The author never once mentions Shakespeare by name. It's as if she's frightened of getting too close to him! You won't learn much about him which isn't conjecture. But then most of the focus is on his wife, Agnes, and the author isn't frightened of taking all kinds of liberties with her. Not muc ...more
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shortlisted for the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction.

William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet four years after his son Hamnet died at the age of eleven. Hamnet and Hamlet are the same name.

Now I will admit that before I read this novel, I did not even know Shakespeare had a son, let alone that he tragically died at the age of eleven. Yes, to say my knowledge of Shakespeare was rudimentary would be a compliment. However, I believe you don’t have to know anything about Shakespeare, who he was, his life, his
Dave Schaafsma
10/20/20: I added some notes for myself at the end of the original review after I listened to Hamlet again and saw a film version of the play.

"Horatio, I am dead, thou liv'st; report my cause aright to the unsatisfied"--Hamlet

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a devastating and beautiful book. You have to read it. I guess we can call it Tudor historical fiction, written in lyrical Elizabethan prose, where plums wear "red-gold jackets near to bursting with sweetness." Lyrical description throughout. S
Peter Boyle
Yes you read that correctly, it's Hamnet, not Hamlet. Hamnet was William Shakespeare's son, something I never realised until I came across this novel. Little is known about the boy other than the fact that he died aged 11. A short time later, the Bard wrote the play Hamlet, about a prince who suffers an untimely death. Was this famous tragedy, as Maggie O'Farrell suggests, inspired by a real-life one?

The first half of the story alternates between two timelines. Hamnet is home alone in Stratford
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Maggie O'Farrell (born 1972, Coleraine Northern Ireland) is a British author of contemporary fiction, who features in Waterstones' 25 Authors for the Future. It is possible to identify several common themes in her novels - the relationship between sisters is one, another is loss and the psychological impact of those losses on the lives of her characters. ...more

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“What is given may be taken away, at any time. Cruelty and devastation wait for you around corners, inside coffers, behind doors: they can leap out at you at any time, like a thief or brigand. The trick is never to let down your guard. Never think you are safe. Never take for granted that your children's hearts beat, that they sup milk, that they draw breath, that they walk and speak and smile and argue and play. Never for a moment forget they may be gone, snatched from you, in the blink of an eye, borne away from you like thistledown.” 30 likes
“Anyone, Eliza is thinking, who describes dying as ‘slipping away’ or ‘peaceful’ has never witnessed it happen. Death is violent, death is a struggle. The body clings to life, as ivy to a wall, and will not easily let go, will not surrender its grip without a fight.” 24 likes
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