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Book review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Gosh, I loved this book. Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet imagines the home life of Shakespeare and the impact of the death of his son, Hamnet – a name that was interchangeable with Hamlet – on the playwright and his family.

I cried and cried – not least because I have a 10-year-old son myself and couldn’t bear the thought of losing him the way Agnes and Shakespeare lost their son.

O’Farrell captures the mother’s grief in a way that is vivid and heartrending. The slight mysticism that pervades the book only adds to the sadness of the loss, with Agnes desperately seeking her little boy after he has died. While she sees those who have gone trying to cross back to their loved ones, she cannot find Hamnet.

Aside from the emotional element, it was fascinating to read about everyday life at the time and of the influences that shaped Shakespeare’s famous words. O’Farrell touches upon the lifestyles, the social mores of the time and the family units that existed in the UK in the 1500 – 1600s.

I’ve always been intimidated by Shakespeare but Hamnet makes me want to revisit his work, especially Hamlet. With the background understanding of the lifestyle that Shakespeare might have had, and some of the struggles he is likely to have faced, I feel that I have an entry into his famous words.

If you get a chance, I recommend reading Hamnet. It’s the newest addition to my all-time favourites list. If you’ve read it, what did you think?

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