England, 1580: The Black Death creeps across the land, an ever-present threat, infecting the healthy, the sick, the old and the young, alike. The end of days is near, but life always goes on.
A young Latin tutor—penniless and bullied by a violent father—falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman. Agnes is a wild creature who walks her family’s land with a falcon on her glove and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer, understanding plants and potions better than she does people. Once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose career on the London stage is taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever.
A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a tender and unforgettable re-imagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, and whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays of all time, Hamnet is mesmerizing, seductive, impossible to put down—a magnificent leap forward from one of our most gifted novelists.
Praise for HAMNET:
“It so happens that the child at the center of Hamnet inspired one of civilization’s most famous plays, but in Maggie O’Farrell’s gifted hands, Hamnet feels as real as my own child. The raw physical life of O’Farrell’s Renaissance England is enthralling. But the beating heart of this book is Hamnet’s mother – an indelible, dauntless woman. What a sensual, full-throated love song to the lost child.”
“Hamnet is a beautiful read, a devastating one, intricate, and breathtakingly imaginative. It will stay with me a long time”
“I’m absolutely blown away by Maggie O’Farrell’s HAMNET. Love, grief, hope, resilience – the world of this novel is so vivid I could nearly smell the grass in the fields, hear the rain in the gutters. In moments where the story shoots up to heaven I was there, too, grieving with these characters, feeling how lucky we all are to be alive, understanding how desperately we want the people we love to be remembered. It’s without a doubt one of the best novels I’ve ever read.”
–Mary Beth Keane, author of Ask Again, Yes
“A bold, beautiful, heart-breaking novel. Maggie has taken on both the most famous writer in the world and the mantle of history with effortless grace. In the process she’s written the book of her life. I’m wildly jealous!”
“This striking, painfully lovely novel captures the very nature of grief.”
—Booklist [starred review]
“What could be more common, over centuries and continents, than the death of a child – and yet Maggie O’Farrell, with her flawless sentences and furious heart, somehow makes it new. This story of remarkable people bereft of their boy will leave you shaking with loss but also the love from which family is spun.”
–Emma Donoghue, author of Room
“Grief and loss so finely written I could hardly bear to read it”
–Sarah Moss, author of Ghost Wall
“A bold undertaking, beautifully imagined and written”
–Claire Tomalin, author of Charles Dickens: A Life
“Heartstopping. Hamnet does for the Shakespeare story what Jean Rhys did for Jane Eyre, inhabiting it, enlarging it and enriching it in ways that will alter the readers view for ever”
–Patrick Gale, author of A Place Called Winter
“Exquisite, immersive and compelling… deserves to win prizes”
–Marian Keyes, author of The Break
“I don’t know how anyone could fail to love this book. It is a marvel: a great work of imaginative recreation and a great story. It is also a moral achievement to have transformed that young child from being a literary footnote into someone so tenderly alive that part of you wishes he had survived and Hamlet never been written”
–Dominic Dromgoole, author of Hamlet, Globe to Globe
About the Author
Born in Northern Ireland in 1972, MAGGIE O’FARRELL grew up in Wales and Scotland and now lives in London. She has worked as a waitress, chambermaid, bike messenger, teacher, arts administrator, journalist (in Hong Kong and London), and as the deputy literary editor of The Independent on Sunday. She is the author of After You’d Gone (winner of the Betty Trask Award); My Lover’s Lover; The Distance Between Us (recipient of a Somerset Maugham Award); The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox; The Hand That First Held Mine; Instructions for a Heatwave (winner of a Costa Book Award); This Must Be the Place; and most recently, I Am, I Am, I Am.