book review: Hamnet by maggie o’farrell

words & musings from Mothers around the Globe.

Every once in a while, you come across a book that just floors you. This is one those books.

Written in an approachable and engaging tone, Hamnet is the story of the death of Shakespeare’s son, it is a work of speculative fiction. O’Farrell breathes exquisite life into this tale of death, and weaves such an intricate story of love, family, motherhood, and loss, I was completely absorbed in the world of this family throughout my reading journey.

Hamnet is set during the time of The Black Death Plague (The Pestilence), and, given the current state of the world (covid-19) this novel rings true in quite an unexpected and home-hitting way. The Pestilence causes major city lockdowns (relatable) and O’Farrell does an incredible job of exploring the journey of the illness, following the trajectory of how it may have passed from animal, to person, to animal, to person all the way to the town of Shakespeare’s family, Stratford-upon-Avon.

This book had me sobbing, and no book has ever had that effect on me, it is quite the emotional roller coaster. What O’Farrell masters so beautifully here, is the all-consuming, personal and isolating experience that is grief. The reason it is so amplified, is that it is the grief of losing ones own child, which I believe (and I’m sure many of you agree) to be the most painful grief imaginable.

I can see quite clearly why this has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (alongside a few others I love, but more on those later). I do highly recommend this novel, even to those who aren’t Shakespeare fans, in fact his name isn’t even mentioned once throughout the whole book.

Thank you to the wonderful people at Hachette who sent a copy in exchange for an honest review. I truly, truly adored this story. I will certainly be reading it again and it’s a front-runner for book-of-the-year for me, I think! One for the Mama’s.

To stay up to date with what I’m reading, you can follow me on Instagram @polyreader.

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