Popsugar Reading Challenge 2021 – Book 47

Prompt: A book that has won the Women’s Prize For Fiction

I bought myself a hardback copy of Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell as a bookish treat last Christmas. All year I have meant to read it. As December rolled around again and the 2021 challenge comes to an end I have finally sat down with Hamnet, winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020.

What it’s about?

From Goodreads:

Drawing on Maggie O’Farrell’s long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, HAMNET is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child.

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel breathes full-blooded life into the story of a loss usually consigned to literary footnotes, and provides an unforgettable vindication of Agnes, a woman intriguingly absent from history.

What I think:

Oh my goodness! While I didn’t cry, there were so many parts of this book where I was pretty close. As the mother of a son, Agnes’ grief is so raw it is impossible not to feel her pain at the loss of Hamnet.

The lack of historical, factual information about Shaekespeare and his family provide the perfect  imaginative space for writers of fiction.

O’Farrell’s Anne Hathaway is Agnes, a country woman, an outsider, a healer. Considered strange by many in the Stratford, she is happiest when outdoors and connected with nature. She is an expert at beekeeping, gardening and has an affinity with animals. She can sense the world beyond this, and feels everything deeply.

Her connection to her husband, who is never named, is spiritual as well as physical. Her deep love for him allows her to encourage his move to London. She senses how Stratford stiffles his spirit and despite his wife and children, he cannot find happiness and fulfillment in the life her leads there.

The description in this book is lyrical and evocative. The threads of the story weave to give Agnes a clear and strong voice. Her sorrow and grief is palpable.

This really is a wonderful gift of a book.

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