Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

 by Maggie O'Farrell
Read by Ell Potter
Published July 2020 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In 1580’s England, during the Black Plague a young Latin tutor falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman in this “exceptional historical novel” (The New Yorker) and best-selling winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. 

Agnes is a wild creature who walks her family’s land with a falcon on her glove and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer, understanding plants and potions better than she does people. Once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose career on the London stage is taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever. 

A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a tender and unforgettable re-imagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, and whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays of all time, Hamnet is mesmerizing, seductive, impossible to put down—a magnificent leap forward from one of our most gifted novelists.

My Thoughts:
I finished this book the day before I am writing this review and cannot decide if I should wait to write this, in the hope that I can do it justice, or rush to it while it is still fresh on my mind. If I were writing this any week except Christmas week, I might wait. I am still in that state where I am, honestly, a bit at a loss for words. I have already added this to my list of favorite books for the year and I am not alone in considering it one of the best books of 2020. NPR calls it a "tour de force," The Boston Globe calls it "magnificent," and The Washington Post calls it "brilliant." 

Very rarely are settings as vivid as O'Farrell's - you can feel the leather under your fingers, smell the flowers Agnes uses in her cures, picture yourself sitting in the rooms of the houses in Stratford. More importantly, you feel that you know these people and are wrapped up  in their passion and their grief. You do, in fact, at least know of these characters. They are, despite the fact that their last name will only be mentioned once near the end of the book, the family of William Shakespeare. He is never named, only called the Latin tutor or the husband. He is not the focus of this book; rather this is book belongs to his wife, a woman whose life is filled with tragedy. Agnes may be my favorite character of the year; she will stay with me a long time. This is a woman who escapes an abusive childhood home only to find herself married to a man who must leave her to find his own life, away from the family business run by his abusive father. Through it all, she remains steadfast until he begins to miss the things that matter, including the death of his son. In his own grief, he begins staying away for longer and longer periods, leaving his wife and daughters alone to deal with their grief.

I loved this book but it was made even more memorable by Ell Potter's reading, which conveys ever emotion of the book. I can't recommend this audiobook highly enough. Clearly, I do not have the words for it. 


  1. I've been wanting to read this one since I heard about it. Being a pandemic and all! So I'm so glad this is one you loved. I'm going to start it this weekend, I think. Great review. I was thinking of listening to it as well but I can't get it from my library for quite some time so I broke down and bought the physical book. But I'm hoping I'll love it enough I can listen to it at a later date and enjoy it again.

  2. Hmmm. I just got a copy of this for my Kindle but you made the audio sounds pretty darn good.