Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

If you, like me, have been putting off reading this, stop, pick it up right now and start reading it!

Sometimes I put off reading a book because of the hype.  Sometimes I put it off because it has won a lot of awards and that intimidates me.  Sometimes I put it off because I think I know what it is about and I’m just not in the mood.  I am not sure why I put off reading Hamnet for so long. I remember thinking when it first came out it sounded like just my kind of book and I added it to my TBR list, but anyone who knows me knows that my TBR list is pretty long and sometimes a really good book ends up forgotten or pushed to near the bottom of my list.  It’s kind of like your email inbox.  You leave a message in it because you want to remember to do something, but then the new messages keep piling up and pretty soon that thing you wanted to remember is way down on the second or third page of your inbox and you forget about it.  Well folks, if Hamnet was that way for you, as it was for me, I am telling you to get the book right now and read it.  It is that good.

It is beautifully written and emotionally engaging, right from the beginning.  You’ll have a hard time putting it down, even though the PB version clocks in at 367 pages and if you read the author’s note (and you should, you really should) it is a little bit longer yet. I am not exaggerating when I write that this novel took my breath away.  It made me sit and think afterwards for long minutes, and even over the next several days, I kept thinking about it.  It is affecting, it is lovely, it brings history near, it makes you feel close to people who lived over 400 years ago. It tells the stories of what may have been, what could have been the life of people we know very little about in actuality. If you can’t decide what to read next and you haven’t read this, please pick it up.  If your book club is unsure where to go next, try it.  I guarantee the discussion will be rich and full, just like this book.

Toward that end, here are some discussion questions:

  1. Given what happens to Hamnet, why do you think O’Farrell chose his name as her title?
  2. What about this book was unexpected for you? Why?
  3. When O’Farrell writes that Hamnet was the thing that held them all together, what do you think she means?
  4. In the author’s note, O’Farrell writes that she was afraid that agents or editors would want to take the passages telling the story of how the Plague germs got to Stratford out, but was very happy they were left in the finished book.  What did you think about those sections in the book?
  5. Some scholars have made jokes at Anne/Agnes’s expense about Shakespeare leaving her his “second best bed.”  What did you think of how O’Farrell chose to frame this?
  6. What did Anne/Agnes’s house mean to her?  To the family?
  7. Which image from the book stayed with you the longest?  Why do you think that is?

Published by Robin Henry

Independent Scholar and Book Coach specializing in Historical Fiction and Literary Fan Fiction.

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