Hamnet Book Review #LiteraryFiction

In this video, you can see how cunning women like Anne had an uneasy relationship with the local community; some saw them as an asset to the community, but others believed their abilities came from The Devil. For more information on Anne’s life, click here. It’s in present tense, which tends to be very hit-and-miss for me, but I thought the present tense really worked. If I had to describe the writing in one word, it would be ‘fluid’ because the story slips between past and present, between Hamnet and Agnes and Judith and Shakespeare.

She breathes life into the boy who fell down the stairs. Found parts of the book too descriptive and tedious but the relating of the grief of losing a child was heart wrenching. I think the connection with twins is a real thing and that loss was also aptly described. Life in Shakespeare’s time is no different than today with father’s having to leave home for work, households having multiple family members living together, navigating life and death and the every day events to just exist and survive. At the end of the book, Maggie O’Farrell explains why she wrote it.

However, by the 1580s, John was losing his business and selling off his land assets. Scholars suspect that either John was a closet Catholic, forced to pay fines every time he failed to attend protestant church, or he was avoiding church and his alderman council meetings because he knew his creditors would be there. In any case, O Farell takes this historical tidbit and turns John Shakespeare into a bitter, broken, abusive man whom Shakespeare can’t wait to get away from.

In our own pandemic era, her novel resonates, filling in the lacunae of literary history, an ode to intimate pleasures and ineffable pain … Her novel is embroidered with humor as well as sorrow, characters true to their time and yet immediate, reminiscent of Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy. Faulkner once called the Bard’s oeuvre ‘a casebook on mankind’; here O’Farrell picks up the baton of all great literature, giving us an indelible, moving book destined to stand the test of tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

When a text is skillfully created by using juxtaposition, and aligned with the way humans experience and interpret information, it can make the reader think and feel those emotions directly within themselves. In other words, a reader can physically respond to a feeling that they have remembered from having read about it. Having puzzled for a few days about just why this story touched me so deeply, and trawled through the Internet, I found a 2009 academic paper on people’s emotional reaction to art, which provides a possible explanation. The findings of the authors are similar to more recent research on the relationship between art, perception and neurobiology, for instance the work of Dr. Eric Kandel.

It is heartbreaking, but in the end, it is uplifting and especially hopeful because of the misery leading up to it. I suggested this title as I’d tried reading it once after an enthusiastic recommendation, and also reading that it had won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020, but didn’t get on well with it. I’d read it in fits and starts at a busy time and found I couldn’t really get into it.

Her descriptions aroused in me memories that remain painfully vivid but oddly treasured, it is very difficult to explain how reading something this accurate both hurts and is deeply comforting at the same time. To be so understood, to have such pain acknowledged and explored, explained and transmitted to that fortunate part of society that has never felt it, is oddly consoling. There were scenes in this book that rang so completely true with me that it both broke my heart and gave me succour at the same time. The passage detailing the procession to the churchyard in particular was like reliving a scene from my own life, it made me cry but also provided solace in the form of understanding by another person of this pain. This is what great writing can do, it can make us feel understood, it can make us feel less alone in a confusing and frightening world. Many of us are going to need much more of this in days to come.

Although this is an astute reading of the texture of Shakespeare’s style, it also serves the purpose of keeping him a blank. There are other touches, such as Agnes’s bridal crown or herb garden which give the granular detail of flora that is reminiscent of the plays (such as Ophelia’s famous speech); or the details about Shakespeare’s father’s glove-making business. But it is not cluttered detail for its own sake. We all already know that if I don’t care about the characters, that I just won’t enjoy the book, and that’s what happened here.

Despite much that is lovely, in the novel’s animating impulse—connecting Hamnet to Hamlet—it falls flat. — From Act 1 Scene 5 of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet, is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1599 and 1601.The critics have raved over this, and americantrucks reviews I agree. It is the most moving, best written novel I have read in years. It is not long, complicated, wordy or over-dramatic. Yet it is everything an historical novel, a love story, a family story, or a Künstlerroman ought to be. I thought to myself, how can I demonstrate to people how well O’Farrell writes?