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.