A review by bandysbooks
Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell

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


Going into Hamnet, I was a bit skeptical. I love historical fiction and literary fiction, but something about it just didn't seem all that appealing to me. Finally, I broke down and decided to give it a try. I'm pretty happy that I did. I don't think this was perfect, but it was a good read.

This story follows Agnes (Anne) as she marries and then settles down with William Shakespeare. They have three children together, one of which dies due to the plague, and eventually becomes the inspiration for Hamlet. While William is in London writing plays, Agnes is grieving and trying to survive. The main focus of the story is really her grief and what she goes through after Hamnet's death. 

The writing in this was very lovely. I was surprised at how flowery it was considering the darkness of the content. It was an interesting contrast, but one that I think worked fairly well. 

The things that kept this from being a higher rating are as follows:
- The description was overdone at points. Others have mentioned this in great detail, but descriptions always come in sets of three. It wasn't simply good. It was magnificent, beautiful, and lovely. This can work when used sparingly, but it's repeated too much throughout the book. 
- Agnes is made into an almost-fae. She's sort of a wilderwoman who is at one with nature, makes herbal remedies, and intuits things before they happen. I suppose it was an attempt to make her standout, but it felt unnecessary. It gave me a bit of Mary Sue vibes initially because she's portrayed as innately better than the other women without much proof. 
-Shakespeare is never given a name. I found this to be an odd choice since I'm pretty sure 95% of the people reading this book understand it's about William Shakespeare's wife and children. I don't think it added to the narration by leaving his name out.

All in all, if you like historical fiction and have a particular interest in Shakespeare, you may enjoy this book. Just beware that it isn't written in straightforward narration. 

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