Hamnet was one of my most anticipated books of 2020, but somehow I failed to pick it up until the very beginning of 2021. This is incredibly well written, and although it’s a slower story, O’Farrell’s writing moves the reader along swiftly and easily.
“She grows up with the awareness that she is merely tolerated, an irritant, useless, that she does not deserve love, that she will need to change herself substantially, crush herself down if she is to be married..”
Although named after Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet is really a story about Agnes – Shakespeare’s wife and Hamnet’s mother. She’s a fascinating character with a complex back story, a strong woman who is bound by the expectations and customs of her time. Her heartbreak is front and center after Hamnet’s death, and O’Farrell handles Agnes’ grief beautifully.
“He glances over his shoulder at the tunnel of dark beside the door. The blackness is depthless, soft, absolute. Turn away, he says to Death. Close your eyes. Just for a moment.”
The writing in Hamnet is stellar, and places it firmly in the literary fiction category (historical yes, but it doesn’t have the same vibe that most mainstream historical fiction seems to have). You don’t need to know much of anything about Shakespeare to understand and appreciate this book. In fact, Shakespeare himself is never actually mentioned by name.