Hamnet - A Buzzy Book - is it for you???
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
Genre: Historical Fiction
Awards: Women's Prize and National Book Critics Award
Published 2020, 372 pages
This book is all over book lists everywhere and has tons of hype. When I read "historical" and "Shakespeare" in various reviews and blurbs, I determined it really wasn't for me. But, hype persisted. So I caved. Wow, was I wrong. Sometimes there's a reason for the hype, right?
I have to say, I was thrilled to find a historical novel NOT set during WWII. It seems there's an over-abundance of novels of that era so anything set in a different timeframe is welcome. The story is structured around the very few facts known about Shakespeare's wife and family - in fact he's never mentioned by name and is almost incidental to the story.
Although Hamnet took me a couple chapters to get into, once I was in, I was hooked. The plot is fairly basic: set in Elizabethan England, a couple marries, struggle with money and in-laws, have three children and one dies, the husband (who is away a LOT) writes plays, the family struggles on. Not a particularly unusual story path.
However, when the storytelling is descriptive and detailed, the path becomes much more interesting. I usually prefer dialog heavy stories; this one is description heavy. But somehow O'Farrell's evocative descriptions really transported me into the era, into the small town, into the family dynamics. I felt totally immersed in rural 1500s England and this extended family.
AN EMOTIONAL TALE
There was so much emotion captured in Hamnet - the frustrations of Agnes at the absence of her husband, the joy of the children, the devastating loss of a child (Hamnet is a twin) and how it affects the family - it's an extraordinary accomplishment to convey those emotions so believably. I must warn you, have tissues nearby - it's one of the most heartbreaking, heartfelt depictions of grief I've ever read. Tears were shed!
"I find,' he says, his voice still muffled, 'that I am constantly wondering where he is. Where he has gone. It is like a wheel ceaselessly turning at the back of my mind. Whatever I am doing, wherever I am, I am thinking: Where is he, where is he? He can't have just vanished. He must be somewhere. All I have to do is find him. I look for him everywhere, in every street, in every crowd, in every audience."
Overall, I found this book terrific. The characters come alive, the era is brought to life, grief is explored and is appropriately tragic, the creation of a life story from some bare facts is imaginative and engaging.
If you're one of the thousands who have read it, what did you think? If you haven't read it, what is holding you back? I recommend giving it a try!
photo by Skylar Kang via pexels.com