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Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is one of the best books I have read in the past year. To me the story spoke, not of grief, but of loss – and the realisation that ultimately, we are born, live, and die alone. The protagonist, Agnes, despite her extra-sensory perception and knowledge of herbal medicine, knew she could not control her life, or the lives of those around her. Agnes’s fate and theirs was dictated by the vagaries of nature. She trained her falcon, yet allowed it to roam in the wild, symbolising this world view. This acceptance also underpinned her relationship with her husband. For Agnes, love was letting go – that is until she was faced with the death of her son. This is really the fulcrum of the story, centred on the journey that she and her husband took before they eventually, through extraordinary circumstances, came to terms with this loss.

Maggie O’Farrell’s prose is rich and lyrical, in a magic-realism style, with imagery drawing on all the senses. I felt that her writing created an immersive experience that I will remember for a long time to come. As a work of historical fiction, it is a tour de force. The barest detail, like an artist’s sketch, successfully evokes the period. So that the reader is fully immersed in that time in a way that allows space for their own imagination to visualise the rest. An inspirational novel.

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Jul 17, 2021

Abolutely loved Hamnet. I don't normally like books set so far back in time but this one was a gem. It captured that bygone atmosphere beautifully - reminded me a little of The Girl With The Pearl Earring which also managed to take us straight into the times. In Hamnet, I really felt for Agnes, but while I've no doubt that Shakespeare really loved his children, he can't have known them too well, opting out of family life to the extent he did. The tragedy of young Hamnet's death was gut wrenching - I had great admiration for him - so young and such a sense of responsibility. A lovely young fellow. I want to avoid a spoiler a…

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