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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times best seller

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

"Of all the stories that argue and speculate about Shakespeare’s life...here is a novel...so gorgeously written that it transports you." (The Boston Globe)

In 1580s England, during the Black Plague, a young Latin tutor falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman in this “exceptional historical novel” (The New Yorker) and best-selling winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Agnes is a wild creature who walks her family’s land with a falcon on her glove and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer, understanding plants and potions better than she does people. Once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon, she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose career on the London stage is taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever.

A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, and whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays of all time, Hamnet is mesmerizing, seductive, impossible to pause - a magnificent leap forward from one of our most gifted novelists.

©2020 Maggie O'Farrell (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"It so happens that the child at the center of Hamnet inspired one of civilization’s most famous plays, but in Maggie O’Farrell’s gifted hands, Hamnet feels as real as my own child. The raw physical life of O’Farrell’s Renaissance England is enthralling. But the beating heart of this book is Hamnet’s mother - an indelible, dauntless woman. What a sensual, full-throated love song to the lost child." (Amity Gaige, author of O My Darling)

"I'm absolutely blown away by Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet. Love, grief, hope, resilience - the world of this novel is so vivid I could nearly smell the grass in the fields, hear the rain in the gutters. In moments where the story shoots up to heaven I was there, too, grieving with these characters, feeling how lucky we all are to be alive, understanding how desperately we want the people we love to be remembered. It's without a doubt one of the best novels I've ever read." (Mary Beth Keane, author of Ask Again, Yes

"What could be more common, over centuries and continents, than the death of a child - and yet Maggie O’Farrell, with her flawless sentences and furious heart, somehow makes it new. This story of remarkable people bereft of their boy will leave you shaking with loss but also the love from which family is spun." (Emma Donoghue, author of Room

What listeners say about Hamnet

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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A masterpiece

It isn't very often that I finish a book and then start it all over again immediately. I did so with Hamnet because I couldn't separate myself from the story, the characters, the language. I had to hear it again. This is one of those rare books that, once you start it, it pulls you in and keeps you there. Beautiful language, extraordinary images and, coupled with the masterful narration, this is a must read - not only for english majors and those interested in Shakespeare - but for all of those who wish to be inspired and reminded that some authors just simply have a gift.

57 people found this helpful

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Riveting and engrossing historical fiction

This is a beautiful novel reminiscent of Ken Follets pillars of the earth. Spare poetic writing. I listened to the entire novel in one day. If you enjoy Hilary mantels wolf hall and subsequent books, you will be immersed here

30 people found this helpful

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Marvelous writing, fabulous reading

What a fecund mind has created this amazing story with so small an amount of resource material. And it is not just the complete world she has brought to life. Her descriptive talent is breathtaking. I confess to a love of Shakespeare from my teens but this, this is different. His personal world told mostly through the eyes of, at least here, his extraordinary wife is a brilliant way in. The wife’s insights add so much richness to an already well-developed set of characters. And then there is the pitch-perfect narrator. So glad I received this outstanding novel through the talented voice of Ell Potter. More please from both author and narrator. And soon.

26 people found this helpful

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Great imagining of the story between the fragments

Fine reading of a gripping tale with meticulous researched details and lyrical prose.

The only quibble I have is that, perhaps in the rush to record for simultanepue release with the printed version, the publisher gave the reader galleys rather than a final printing to read from. On several occasions the text seems very briefly to be a combination of two slightly different versions within a sentence, and on others almost the same sentence or two of narration/inner monologue is repeated just slightly after the first usage of it. In the second case, i know it's common for people to repeat themselves inwardly if obsessing on a subject, but in this book either the technique is overused or the placements weren't final. Or all of this could have been copyediting errors (take it from one who knows the task),which case, I give the whole book a 5.

20 people found this helpful

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Ravings of a mad woman

Some lovely prose, but mainly the ravings of a mad woman. Took me many hours of reading to figure out who the people are. William Shakespeare is never mentioned and his wife is called Agnes instead of Anne. Seemed like a deliberate attempt at being clever, but confusing instead. Wouldn't recommend unless to have a lot of time to spare listening to words with no story.

17 people found this helpful

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Possibly the best book that I have read this year.

A lovely and heartbreaking story. I enjoyed every moment of this book. The narrator is perfect. The author’s words transported me, making me feel that I was a witness. I usually listen to audiobooks while doing something else, but I was so caught up in the story and narration that I often found myself mid- task, just listening without realizing how long I had been doing so. I cannot recommend this book enough.

16 people found this helpful

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clever marketing sales books

The title us a gimmick to sell a mediocre tale,
with major characters strangely unsympathetic.

14 people found this helpful

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Slow burn of internal monologues made intriguing by overarching gimmick

The New York Times Book Review praises O’Farrell for not “force marching” the reader through descriptions of Elizabethan glovemaking techniques. This, I suppose, is a matter of taste, but be prepared instead for near endless internal monologues, with lists of synonyms and restated emotions. Some might think it is an author’s job to choose the most apt. O’Farrell, though, opts to list all possible alternatives. Without the gimmick of the title, this story would lose much luster. Glove making techniques might hold more interest. Still, the end is strong, and the story contains some memorable characters. The narration is excellent.

12 people found this helpful

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  • JP
  • 09-23-20

I hung in there until . . .

Even though there is relatively little mention of Shakespeare, I hung in there until the tedious description of how the pestilence made its way from a flea to Hamnet's sister. To say it was self-indulgent would be an understatement - it does absolutely nothing to advance the story. Given that there wasn't really any story to begin with, that proved too much.

10 people found this helpful

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fantastic!

“Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell is an exquisite meditation on grief. O’Farrell takes us back to 16th century England, and the daily life of one extended family. When a young boy dies in the family, each member grieves in profoundly different ways,

O’Farrell used the scant historical information that is available about the family that historians believe is of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare, at age 18, married an older woman (26) and immediately began a family in Stratford, England. He was educated in Latin and Greek. He could read and was a tutor to many, although most town-folk didn’t see a future in such a boy. He left Stratford to pursue a future as a playwright in London, leaving his pregnant wife and his daughter. His wife, Agnes had twins, a girl and the boy named Hamnet. At that time, Hamnet and Hamlet were interchangeable names. Hamnet dies, but his cause of death is never noted. O’Farrell chose the plague as it was common in that time. She also noted the Shakespeare never mentioned the plague in his art, poetry or plays. She found that to be significant.

Ok, so why read this amazing novel? Well, O’Farrell has a quiet narrative ability to stun the reader in lyrical prose. The domestic life of late 16th century England is written so beautifully that each of her sentences become thought-provoking. She explicitly writes of the love between Agnes and Shakespeare when they began their marriage, against all the odds. And after Shakespeare leaves to pursue his plays, which Agnes blessed, O’Farrell shows how difficult life was for Agnes as a sole parent. In fact, most of the novel is about Agnes and her struggle as a unique woman of her time.

Because O’Farrell chose to use the plague as the reason for Hamnet’s death, she goes into detail how the plague got into Hamnet’s home. Yes, O’Farrell used a flea and the flea’s progeny to show how the plague traveled from one place to another remote place. It’s those details that make O’Farrell a remarkable author.

I listened to the audible production narrated by Ell Potter. Ms Potter was fabulous and I loved her artistic voice.

7 people found this helpful