Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Hamnet

Finished October 6
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
This book imagines the life of William Shakespeare's family in a new way, focusing on his wife and children. The book jumps from 1596 when Hamnet died at the age of eleven back to 1580 with William's first meeting with his wife Agnes (her real name in history is sometimes Agnes and sometimes Anne), their courtship, marriage, and growing family.
In real history the cause of Hamnet's death isn't specified, but the plague was an active disease in this time, with the theatres that Shakespeare's plays among others played in closing for a few months in "plague season" throughout the country.
When William first met Agnes, he was tutoring Latin and still living with his father, John, a glover. Here, we see their courtship, not necessarily approved of by either family, but occurring in places where they wouldn't draw a lot of attention.
Agnes is a very interesting character, a woman whose mother died when she and her brother were both young, who spent a lot of time outdoors, who gained a knowledge of the use of herbs and plants from her mother and what her mother left behind, who had a kestrel and had bees. She is a strong personality and more than an equal to her husband. She also has a sixth sense. She knows the future in many cases, just through touching someone and once married starts running a natural healing business from her home. She senses her husband's challenges, particularly with his domineering and sometimes violent father, and works to push him to what she can sense his future will be, even if it causes issues within their relationship.
The young Hamnet is an exuberant boy, but very close to his twin sister Judith, and as Judith gets sick near the beginning of the book, he worries and tries to find help for her, a situation that is very traumatic for him. As I read, knowing that Hamnet would not survive this illness, I felt for Agnes and William and watched how they dealt with this loss.
This book won the Women's Prize for Fiction award earlier this year, a well-deserved honour.

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