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Book: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Tinder Press
Publication date: 2020
Source: ebook borrowed from the library
History has very little to say about this woman. We, now, call her Anne Hathaway and romanticize the cottage where she grew up. The best historical source of her name (her father’s will) calls her Agnes and that’s the name used in Hamnet.
The few facts leave lots of room for a fictional approach to her life starting with her independent status as an unmarried 20-something. The marriage means that she departs from her birth household, which had been an awkward living situation since the death of her father, leaving a stepmother to run the house. The awkward settling into the household of her husband seems like a respite in some ways. Her husband’s frequent absences to the theater scene in London leave her on her own to deal with his family and their children — Susanna and the twins, Judith and Hamnet.
Thoughts: The description of Hamnet on Goodreads (which is presumably the back cover copy of the print book) gives away more than I did in my summary. I don’t like to give away much of the plot in my reviews, but I’m glad that I read that description before I read the book. It is historical, after all, so I could have learned it from other sources.
My experience of the novel was of a gentle and leisurely journey through life in Stratford-Upon-Avon. If I hadn’t already known the central tragedy of the book, there are sections that would be much more shocking and traumatic. I was just as glad that I knew they were coming.
I’ve read a fair number of novels set in the Elizabethan era, but I think this is my first that is mostly about ordinary people living mostly ordinary lives and, in particular, about the life of a woman from that part of history. I really enjoyed viewing that era from a perspective that wasn’t all about political intrigue, adventuring off to America, or the drama of the theater (although, of course, we get a little of the latter).
Appeal: A history novel for people who, if they had a time machine, would be most interested in the question “How did people live back then?”
Have you read this book? What did you think?