Book review by Dinh.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell got our attention because its title name is interchangeable with Hamlet, which is a play written by William Shakespeare. I’m not a big Shakespeare fan but I’m familiar with the play Hamlet.
We chose to read Hamnet partly because Maggie O’Farrell is a new author to us and also because it’s an historical fiction about Shakespeare’s family.
Going in, I was worried that my lack of knowledge about Shakespeare would hinder my reading experience but it didn’t matter in the end. Having general knowledge about the famous playwright is all you need. Moreover, it’s a work of fiction so facts or truths can be liberally stretched.
I immensely enjoyed reading Hamnet. This is definitely a book you should check out!
Firstly, be aware that this book is not a plot driven book. It’s a character driven book so the book will focus on the characters and how they react to events that happen in the book.
Secondly, don’t expect it to be about William Shakespeare! His name is not mentioned at all in the book.
Instead, the story’s epicenter is Agnes. Set in 16th century England, during the times of the bubonic plague or Black Death, Agnes meets her future husband, who is referred in the book as the Latin tutor when she meets him.
The couple marry and have three children and live in Henley Street until the plague come knocking at their door…
Hamnet won me over with its beautiful writing. The wonderful writing propels the reader and I found myself absorbed from the first page to the end.
I take my hat off to O’Farrell who has crafted a beautiful story with the barest of facts thrown in and made it into a plausible story that had my senses go into overdrive. I loved use of the details and descriptions of the day to day life in 16th century England which brought the book alive.
My favorite part of the book was how the pestilence traveled from Alexandria and reached Warwickshire, England. It was only a small part of the book but it made a huge difference in the overview. It tied the story together.
Another thing that O’Farrell mastered was her handling of grief. The loss of a child and how it affects Agnes and her marriage was spot-on. The depth of emotion in the book was incredible- from Judith being ill to Agnes trying to save her son.
O’Farrell does a fantastic job in creating and developing a cast of rich and complex characters.
Agnes was my favorite character. I loved that she was different and unique. She had a kestrel, could tame animals and knew about herbal medicine. She had an uncanny way of reading a person’s character and their future by pinching the flesh between the thumb and forefinger.
Agnes is portrayed as an oddity within community but is put up with because of her skills as a healer. She uses herbs and plants to help those that seek her medicinal skills.
Although Agnes was seen peculiar person, she knew what she wanted and had plans to get what she wanted. For example, when Agnes met the Latin tutor (Shakespeare) she falls for him and wants to marry him but her step mother Joan said no. To solve this problem, Agnes gets pregnant with the Latin tutor.
In addition, I loved the twins Hamnet and Judith characters. Their connection was special and they loved each other so much that Hamnet would give his life for Judith.
The ending was perfect. I was completely satisfied with it. It was a tear-jerker at the end but that’s what a good book is suppose to do!
My Final Thoughts
I loved reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell!
It was moving, vivid and beautifully written. O’Farrell brings to life a story of a mother who loses a child who is all but forgotten except his name on one of the most famous plays.
I highly recommend this book to those that enjoy historical fiction.
Belong to a book club? Check out Hamnet book club discussion questions.