A review by taranim
Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell

emotional reflective sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


I’ve read a good few books that deal with grief this year, but this might be the one that takes the biscuit.


‘What is the word, Judith asks her mother, for someone who was a twin but is no longer a twin?’

Hamnet is an exquisitely lyrical and heartbreaking novel that imagines the events that led up to, and take place after, the death of William Shakespeare’s only son. Only we are never given the name of the man himself - he is always referred to as the Latin tutor, the husband, the father. This allows his family to shine, particularly his wife Agnes (known to history as Anne Hathaway). 

I loved this story. The writing was beautiful, and the differing perspectives in the novel flowed rather than taking away from or slowing the narrative. Mind you, it is not a quick read by any means, but it’s not supposed to be. It is a study of characters, of complex family dynamics, of illness, and of grief. I was particularly fascinated by the relationship between Hamnet and his twin Judith, and by the way the novel explored each parent’s reaction to the loss of their child. 

The only reason that I didn’t give it a 5-star review is because, while the writing was beautiful, I felt at times it was a tad overwritten. There were moments that could have benefited from a simpler phrase, a less detailed metaphor. It didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story however so it is only a small thing.

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