Saturday, December 19, 2020

HAMNET



 Hamnet, Maggie O'Farrell, Alfred A Knopf, 2020, 261 pp

[Note: I am on a quest to get reviews of all the books I have read in 2020 posted by the end of the year. So you will be seeing one a day and I hope I am not overwhelming you. You could save them all up and read them on Christmas Day when, no doubt we will all be bored out of our minds.]


Maggie O'Farrell has said in several interviews that she wrote Hamnet in an effort to bring for herself and readers some insight into William Shakespeare as a man and husband and father. She admits she pretty much imagined her novel based on very few facts. She is such a brilliant writer that I believed every word.

In Elizabethan England, the names Hamlet and Hamnet were interchangeable. In 1580 the Black Death crept across the country and into Stratford to claim the life of Shakespeare's only son. If you haven't read this book yet, now would be a good time as we stumble through the winter of our own pandemic.

I was blown away by everything in the book. Reading it gave me complete satisfaction on every page. I loved the way she imagined Agnes, the bard's wife and how she drew the many conflicts in the family life of her characters. Agnes could press the flesh between the thumb and first finger of a person and read into their character. She says she married William because he had more in him that anyone she had ever known!

When you read about the horrific grief accompanying the loss of a child and feel as though you have never read about that particular tragedy before, you know you are in the hands of a great writer. Because of course you have read that tragedy many times.

Why is it not too hard to read this story in these times? Because of the startling and blessed ending of the story which celebrates the power of art (in this case playwriting) to heal and bring joy to those left behind.


20 comments:

  1. for years i've thought that "Hamnet" should be "Hamlet". i imagined some underpaid type setter peering through the candle-lit dark at midnight trying to read someone's crabby handwriting and setting the type-faces mostly by feel and accidentally grabbing an "N" instead of a "L", thereby ensuring that critics by the score for the next 300 years would be convinced that the word was Hamnet instead of Hamlet... but now i guess I was wrong?

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    1. We owe it all to Maggie O'Farrell for doing the research!

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  2. I enjoyed this too, though not as much as you. I did think it was beautifully written and yes, reading about the plague felt particularly relevant this year!

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    1. Beautiful writing goes a long way with me!

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  3. Excellent review of one of my absolute favorite reads of the year.

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    1. Thank you, Dorothy. I am so glad I read it sooner than later.

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  4. Least for a dark story it seems to have some light at the end.

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  5. It is really quite remarkable how novelized versions of a life become truth in the view of many.

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    1. Truth is a slippery slope. To her credit the author freely admits her novel is a work of imagination.

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  6. After reading your review, I so hope to be able to read this too, just to experience the writing. I just don't think I can read about the loss of a child yet - so I will pick this up when I'm feeling content in general. Very very good review!

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    1. Oh, Athira, I understand about putting this one off. Thank you for your kind words.

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  7. It was a pretty incredible story, such fine writing. I get you wanting to review all you read in 2020. I have this "self-imposed" mindset of having to write something about every book I read. I used to force myself to write it immediately after finishing the book and before beginning a new one but, it eventually made me want to stop blogging. LOL

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    1. OMG, the writing up is a burden. My thing is I can't write anything right away. I have to let the book and my feelings sink in together. But then the pile grows. Anyway, we don't want to do anything that makes us want to stop blogging. Reading is priority with me. The rest is random with no rules! I wonder how I will do with my quest.

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  8. Yes I would like to read this one; my sister liked it much too. Are you really going back & planning to review all the ones from early in 2020? wow that'll be a lot right? funny perhaps we will be bored on Christmas day : snowed in, isolated, closed down, & not in California. It's a sad state of affairs. But not as bad as Will & Agnes had it ...

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    1. I think you will like Hamnet. No, I am not going all the way back. Just catching up all that I have not reviewed yet from November and December. Ha, it took me a minute to think of who Will and Agnes were! Losing it over here.

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  9. I’ve not read this yet, it’s on my 2022 list! I’m planning far ahead!

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    1. Oh yes, I know about planning far ahead!

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  10. Wow, Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell sounds like an amazing read. I will add it to my ever growing reading wishlist.

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