“She grows up feeling wrong, out of place, too dark, too tall, too unruly, too opinionated, too silent, too strange. She grows up with the awareness that she is merely tolerated, an irritant, useless, that she does not deserve love, that she will need to change herself substantially, crush herself down if she is to be married.”
Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favorite writers. I love her writing style—it is “literary” without being snooty or unnecessarily difficult. She tells stories in parts, through two or three different perspectives, and often explores a sort of puzzle…not really a mystery, but there is often something to figure out.
So when I started to hear about her book Hamnet, I was so excited to read it. I bought my copy from Book Depository, because they have the British copies, and the British cover is absolutely beautiful. I waited until December to read it, though, because somehow it felt like a winter book to me.
Hamnet is a historical novel about the Shakespeare family. You get to see some things through the point of view of William Shakespeare, but most of the story is told through the eyes of Agnes, his wife, and their three children, Susannah and twins Hamnet and Judith. It is a story about the bubonic plague, but it is also about marriage, loss, faith, love, family. And, to me, it is deeply entwined with Agnes and the way she figures out her place in the world.
This is a book I don’t want to say a lot about because anything I would say would lessen its impact. It is beautifully written and it made me weep; I also found bits of myself in Agnes and in Judith. My favorite parts were the fairy-tale-esque telling of Agnes’s childhood, the birth of Susannah, and the tale of how the illness makes its way across the world to Stratford. That said, it is a book to just experience, from the texture of the cover all the way to the last words on the page.
Have you read Hamnet? What did you think? Let me know!