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.