Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Review)

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell


Drawing on Maggie O’Farrell’s long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, HAMNET is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child. 

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet. 


Always seduced by a pretty cover I got this book because of the special Waterstones edition that is very attractive.

I do love the work of Shakespeare and have been trying to read all of his works. Although I will be honest I always felt very sorry for his wife who was left behind all that time whilst he was in London.

Hamnet is based on Shakespeare’s son, Hamlet or Hamnet but really it is more to do with Shakespeare’s marriage. The story moves backwards and forwards to the present day and to the past based around Agnes and William as children and how they came about meeting and getting married.

Agnes or Anne as she is more commonly known, is described as a woman with peculiar talents. Agnes can see the dead and also see snippets into the future and she understands the properties of herbs and can heal people with them. This means that people both fear her and need her in equal measure.

William is introduced as the eldest son of a glove maker who does not get on with his father. His father sees him as a waste of space and does not understand why his eldest son does not want to take the family business on. William is acting as tutor to earn a living but is not enjoying it and is getting more and more depressed and frustrated until he makes the move to London.

The book shows us how Agnes and William cope as parents, living so far apart and having to deal with the death of a child. I found this section very emotional but I must admit I got very frustrated with William and Agnes at times and felt very sorry for their daughters.

I enjoyed the story and found that O’Farrell had taken an interesting take on the people we know so well from history and yet know so little. I will be honest I could have done without the chapter about a flea and just found it rather unnecessary. I also discovered there were a few sections that I found unnecessary and could have done without but overall I did enjoy this piece of historical fiction and give it 3 out of 5 Dragons.


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About the author

Maggie O’Farrell (born 1972, Coleraine Northern Ireland) is a British author of contemporary fiction, who features in Waterstones’ 25 Authors for the Future. It is possible to identify several common themes in her novels – the relationship between sisters is one, another is loss and the psychological impact of those losses on the lives of her characters.


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