A Novel of the Plague

Book - 2020
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A thrilling departure: a short, piercing, deeply moving novel about the death of Shakespeare's 11 year old son Hamnet--a name interchangeable with Hamlet in 15th century Britain--and the years leading up to the production of his great play. England, 1580. A young Latin tutor--penniless, bullied by a violent father--falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman--a wild creature who walks her family's estate with a falcon on her shoulder and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer. Agnes understands plants and potions better than she does people, but once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose gifts as a writer are just beginning to awaken when his beloved young son succumbs to bubonic plague. A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a hypnotic recreation of the story that inspired one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, Hamnet is mesmerizing, seductive, impossible to put down--a magnificent departure from one of our most gifted novelists.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2020.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780525657606
Characteristics: 305 pages ; 25 cm.


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Feb 09, 2021

Maggie O'Farrell is an amazing writer. I love her work (I have read a work of nonfiction of hers called "I Am, I Am, I Am" and I loved it, too). The writing in Hamnet is exceptional, and it reads like a work of historical fiction, with an element of mysticism or magical realism. The most abiding feature, though, is the love of a mother and father for their child, Hamnet, who dies from the plague in England. Hamnet is a synonym for Hamlet, and apparently scholars believe that William Shakespeare had a boy named Hamnet who died about three years before he wrote the play, "Hamlet." For me, it wasn't a quick read. There is so much sadness infused throughout the pages. Not many books make me weep. This one did.

Jan 16, 2021

On a list of titles I wanted to read in 2020

Jan 08, 2021


Dec 30, 2020

What an unusual, beautiful book! As the title indicates, the plot is a fictionalized story of Shakespeare's son Hamnet (or Hamlet), who died (supposedly of plague) when he was only 11. The name Shakespeare is never mentioned in the book, and Anne is here called Agnes (apparently a spelling variation of her name). This is clearly a work of fantasy, a very personal interpretation of events happened many centuries ago and about which we really don't know much. But I liked it very much, I think this is one of the best books I have read in a long time. I don't want to give away too much, so I will just say that the story moves on two levels: Hamnet and Judith's sickness and the story of Agnes and Will's meeting and love. The two levels meet at the moment of the boy's untimely death, when his parents react in radically different ways to their loss. The last pages are the most moving and the author's ending is truly memorable. I was crying when I got to the last sentence. This book is a case of suspension of disbelief, because if you want to read it keeping in mind the truth - or what we think is the truth - you will not enjoy it. O'Farrell creates a world of unbelievable characters that we want to believe, using a style so poetic that you will want to reread several sections just for the pleasure of seeing those words again. If you love Shakespeare or a very good book, this is for you.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Dec 17, 2020

Lovely writing and a fascinating topic make this book one of my faves of the year. This is a historical reimagining of William Shakespeare's life in which he is not mentioned by name (at least not in the body of the novel itself...I'm sure it's on the flap copy and in the author's note ;) ). It's more the story of his family than of him, and specifically his son, Hamnet, who died of unknown causes as a child. O'Farrell draws a line from the son to the titular character of Hamlet and imagines how the play came by it's name and how it might have affected Anne Hathaway. A compelling read and beautifully written.

LPL_LeahN Dec 14, 2020

An untold story of one lost too soon, Hamnet is about heartbreak, healing, and the parts of us that are never the same. While I typically steer clear of such sad reads, and just forget about child death, it being about the only son of Shakespeare was too compelling and now I'm so glad I didn't pass it up. Maggie O'Farrell has a beautiful voice and she wove this tale with a strong sense of place, lots of historical detail, a dash of magical realism, and fascinating, complex characters. Particularly Hamnet's mother, Agnes, who I feel really stole the show.

Dec 14, 2020

Looks good. Easy to work through.

Sep 11, 2020

Kindle Immersion Read
Wow! Wow, wow, wow! Hamnet is the best book I’ve read this year and perhaps one of my ‘new’ absolute favorites of all time.

This review could go on for pages, like one of Shakespeare’s plays, but I’ll summarize it by stating that Maggie O'Farrell, is a gifted wordsmith who has taken the 26 letters of the alphabet and weaved them into a beautiful tapestry from Shakespeare's 16th century.

O'Farrell absolutely deserved the ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’ received this month (September 2020), with some stiff competition from well-known, talented contemporaries. Take a bow madam, as your audience stands in applause. And yes, we will remember you.

LPL_SarahM Sep 09, 2020

Never did I expect this book, this imagining of William Shakespeare and Anne (Agnes) Hathaway's son's tragic death, to affect me in such a way. Sometimes a voyeuristic view of the past— especially when that past is rough and literally crawling with rats and the plague— can be... well... fun? This felt more like time traveling where a real life is taken right before your eyes and you're helpless to stop it. Taking cues from Shakespeare himself, O'Farrell writes a tragedy for the ages.

DCLadults Aug 07, 2020

A New & Noteworthy staff pick 2020. Shakespeare’s family is devastated by the unexpected death of their young son. This book brings William Shakespeare’s family, especially his wife, to life.

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