I'd seen a huge buzz around this novel online, and having had a couple of positive Maggie O'Farrell reading experiences, I thought this was worth a library punt (mind you, online buzz let me down with Where the Crawdads Sing). Anyway, a story about Shakespeare is always appealing, right?

Well, Hamnet is wonderful. I didn't think think I was going to like it much at first -- I think I was too anxious about the fate of Hamnet himself (spoiler, if there's anyone who doesn't know about Shakespeare's family -- he dies). But by about a fifth of the way through, I was completely hooked. The story weaves back and forth between the present (illness in the house) and the past (the courtship of Agnes and her un-named younger suitor -- spoiler: it's William Shakespeare) to tell the story of their family life, his departure for London, and the unfolding of their grief.

The part I liked best about this novel was the rich, intriguing characterisation of Shakespeare's wife, usually known as Anne, but named as Agnes in her father's will and called Agnes here. William's wife, about whom almost nothing is known, has been given a bad rap by most literary historians, who have conjectured that she was such a shrew that Shakespeare had to flee to London, that because she was older than him, she must have trapped him into marriage, that he hated her so much he left her their 'second best bed' in his will. But this Agnes is confident, charismatic, knowledgeable about herbs and healing, serene and strong, a most appealing woman. She's also a little bit psychic and can see that her husband is destined for great things. Their love is tender and definitely mutual, though grief pulls them apart. This version of events is just as likely as the bad spin Anne/Agnes has received down he centuries, and I like this much better!

Hamnet is a beautiful, sad and restorative novel, and this time it deserved all the fuss.

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