Writing a thought bubble about Maggie O’Farrell’s writing is like a preschooler trying out a calligraphy pen. O’Farrell’s writing is sublime. While Shakespeare’s work comes alive on the stage, his home life comes alive in Hamnet.
I’m a big fan of historical fiction. I love how it transforms static images into living, breathing, squabbling, tired, real people. In Hamnet, cultural norms and expectations, gender roles, even the nature of housework seem foreign to me. However, contrasting personalities, especially in family settings, are all too familiar, as are the emotions arising from disappointment, love, prejudice, frustration, impatience, anger and grief.
However, it’s the writing that sets this apart from other historical novels. With only scant records of the family, O’Farrell acknowledges that this is an imagined account based on her own speculation. And yet, there is exquisite historical detail peppered throughout, and a sequence of imagined events articulated so magnificently that it took my breath away.
This isn’t really a book about Hamnet; it is a book about his mother – a woman defined by being different, gifted, and a devoted mother. The tension builds and builds through the dual narrative, a flawless construction of characters and events leading to That Moment, foreshadowed in the historical note at the start. Grief is explored with an intense compassion and tenderness, and yet with impeccable restraint.
Hamnet is simply exceptional storytelling.
Have you read Hamnet or any of Maggie O'Farrell's work? Please share below and let me know your thoughts.
Please find here an assorted mix of what I tend to read - new books, old books, birthday gifts, gifts to myself, books from my to-be-read pile, Book Group books, fiction, non-fiction, memoirs - basically a weird assortment of goodies!
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