Book Review of Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet
,Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet tells a completely fictionalized version of Shakespeare's life story after meeting his future wife Agne. The story unfolds up until the point Hamlet the play was performed in London.
Agnes (Anne Hathaway) is portrayed as a semi-wild unconformist woman with a love of nature, a skill in creating medicinal cures and a desire to escape her uncaring step-mother. There is a Cinderella aspect to the story as she is rescued by her hapless lover. Shakespeare, who works on her brother's farm as a latin tutor. Shakesepare is presented as little more than a boy, a dreamer and a man with few prospects. We follow their lives as fanciful and practical matters combine, before focusing in on their children, particularly the twins Judith and Hamnet.
Hamnet begins with the boy Hamnet tripping down the stairs full of life and vigour. We are quickly invited to understand his relationship with his wider family. This pulls us in and we watch the saga unfold leading to his death,. We learn the family dynamics at which Shakespeare himself was central and see how the plague touched the household.
Most readers will have some knowledge of Shakspeare and Shakespeare's England so this insight into a respected writer's interpretation of events and culture, within a broadly accurate historical context, is interesting and thought provoking. The challenge, as a reader is to suspend one's own imaginative flights of fancy and buy into someone else's. Once this is achieved then the book is absorbing and the story is well-told.
Book Discussion Questions on Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet
Bookclub Questions on Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet (If you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet
Hamnet was going to have to be a pretty special book for me to really buy into the story linking the death of his son with the play's production. Maggie O'Farrell's fiction account is, of course, utter conjecture. O'Farrell is offering 'a reading' or interpretation of what might have been. To get hung up on whether Agnes' interpretation of events at the end of the story is plausible is, arguably, missing the point of the book.
O'Farrell is writing fiction and bringing alive a possible scenario about something which the reader knows absolutely nothing for sure. Did I get hung up on this? YES! Hamlet, has the best lines of any play ever written or likely to be written. It's a big ask of the reader to ask them to either suspend their interpretation of the historical contextual reality in order to swallow this version. of the naming of the play. Could I do so? I'm afraid not entirely. That's perhaps because, ultimately I am too enraptured by the melancholia of Shakespeare's tragedy, to step fully into this world created by Maggie O'Farrell!