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Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

As seen:

  • Women's Prize for Fiction 2020

By Maggie O'Farrell

avg rating

14 reviews

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TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART. On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home? Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs.

Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week. Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief.

It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves.

Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.


31 Aug 2022


14 Jul 2022

In this beautifully crafted historical novel, O’Farrell tells the story of William Shakespeare’s son Hamnet and his twin sister Judith; but it is even more the story of Agnes, who is portrayed as free-spirited and independent – more than the equal of her husband, who is never named. It explores Agnes’s grief, her relationships, her resilience and her wisdom. It is haunting, poignant and unforgettable. The Audible version is outstanding if you get the chance to listen to the book.

27 Jun 2022


I enjoyed the story and the character of Agnes. I liked idea behind the story and details of Tudor life. I would definitely recommend it to students wanting to learn more about the period and to other teachers wanting a good read.

15 Nov 2021

I found the constant switching between Hamnet's parents' youth and the time around his death a bit annoying but I'm glad I persevered as the ending was ultimately satisfying and very moving

03 Nov 2021

Donna May

St Just Monday Morning Reading Group 27th September 2021.

Hamnet. Maggie O’Farrell.

Most people said they enjoyed this book, but to varying degrees. Several thought it “excellent”, “quite as brilliant second time round”, “five stars”, “deserved all its accolades”, and “couldn’t put it down”. The author’s ability to enter into such a different world view, and create such an exceptional person as Agnes, was admired, as was the fact that the book is written without nudges to the reader about what we know of Shakespeare – and all without his name being mentioned.

The book was also thought by some to be “almost unbearably sad”, and one reader said she cried most of the way through it. The writing was described as “poetic” and “lyrical”, and several people mentioned how solidly it was set within the time and places. Agnes’s character, her journey to London, and her facing of the performance of the play, were appreciated.

There were very few negative comments, but a couple of readers said it took them a while to get started with this book, and one did not like the time shifting in each chapter. “A bit laboured in parts” was another remark. One reader thought that this was essentially a short story, which had been extended into a book.

The general impression, however, was of a very clever and convincing book and a superb read.

This book was read during September 2021 and the continuing restrictions due to the Covid-19 virus, and so the discussion was not 'live' as usual, but took place via a Facebook group, email and telephone conversations.

02 Sep 2021

I would definitely recommend this book! It is beautifully written and moved me to tears.

28 Aug 2021

Beautifully written.

18 Aug 2021

A really emotional journey. I loved the very vivid portrayal of grief. It absorbed me and made me cry. I wish I hadn’t read it so I could start it again.

02 Aug 2021

Not my usual read but saw it in The Bound in Whitley Bay and really wanted to read something new. A really interesting book, I loved the characters and really empathised with them. I never knew the story of Hamlet stemmed from this so feel like I have learnt something new.

20 Jul 2021

I loved the way Maggie O’Farrell has woven in bits of fact from Shakespeare’s life to make this a wonderful, believable narrative. It is beautifully written.

09 Jul 2021

This is a brilliant book based ( possibly) upon Shakespeare and his early life and family. Agnes, his wife is a favourite character as she is alternative and very emotive.

24 May 2021


A stunning, immersive read, Maggie O'Farrell does a great job at building atmosphere and tension to tell a story that we all already know. Our group were impressed with the detail and storytelling elements, the author's decision to not refer to William Shakespeare by his name through the novel and it was interesting to see parallels between the plague and our lives through Covid.

23 Apr 2021

Hamnet is an historical novel set in the 16th century. It is about William Shakespeare's son, Hamnet, who dies of the Bubonic Plague or the Black Death as it was known, at the young age of 11.

The novel is beautifully written and Maggie O'Farrell paints a vivid picture of what life was like in the 1500s. The book is divided into two parts; part one focuses on how Hamnet's parents meet. Part two concentrates on the family's grief in the aftermath of Hamnet's death. The story is about love and loss and how both parents deal with their grief.

One of my favourite chapters to read was Chapter 3, which followed a flea and how the Plague spread across the world!

Hamnet was a very different novel to what I usually read. I really enjoyed reading this book and I highly recommend it.

29 Jan 2021


Hamnet was probably a 2.5* rather than a 3* purely because the group seemed to be so largely apathetic towards it. It was well written (whatever that actually means) but ultimately left us shrugging our shoulders. This is not a sleight or anything on Maggie O'Farrell who clearly knows her onions, but Hamnet just did very little in terms of generating discussion or passion.

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