Thoughts by Maggie O’Farrell, Knopf/Borzoi Books 2020, 384 pages

Challenge: #20BooksofSummer

Genre/Theme: Historical Fiction / Shakespearean England

Type/Source: eBook/Libby-Kindle

What It’s About: This is an imagined life of the wife and kids of William Shakespeare.

Factually, you can find out that Bill Shakespeare had 3 children, one was a son who died at the age of 11. His name was Hamnet. Apparently Hamnet and Hamlet are names like Bill and Will — nicknames of the ‘same’ name.

His gums are red and sore, the peaks of new teeth poking through, his cheeks livid and hot. He fusses, he squeezes pie between his fingers, he tips over his cup, he leans on Agnes’s shoulder, he grabs at her napkin and drops it to the floor.

The story begins with us meeting Hamnet as he runs all over trying to find his mom, or his grandma, or the servants, or anyone, really, to help his twin sister Judith who has taken ill.

Then we shift back 15 years earlier to when our poet Bill met and fell hard for Agnes, the woman who became his wife, mother to his children. (yea, yea, if you look at Wiki, there’s some chatter about the name Agnes or Anne and if they were the same lady or not, whatever. The author can write her fiction as she sees best.)

Eventually, these time lines meet. Dad has been working in London but receives word that his child is ill and he races home as only one can in the 16th century. By which I mean, tragically, too late.

Then we sadly and quickly jump to ten plus years out to when Will puts on a play, Hamlet.

Thoughts: I liked it but didn’t love it. Not sure why, maybe it was too short? The writing is great. The characters drawn well. The pacing is fine. It has all the components of a fabulous read and it is quite good, so don’t let me talk you out of reading it; read it!

A breeze threads through the room, stirring the air inside it, toying with the wall drapes, the mantel-cloth, carrying with it the scent of the street, dust from the dry road, a hint of a pie baking somewhere nearby, the acrid sweetness of caramelizing apple.

It has LOTS of pie, like a good English novel set in these times would.

Rating: Four slices of pie.

Gone is the jostling, whistling, brawling, pie-chewing mass and in its place a silent, awed congregation.



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4 thoughts on “Hamnet

    1. oh yes, I think it would be a fabulous book club book. Especially if you compare the different speculations about William’s marriage (and when! and the age difference! and the circumstances!!) to Anne or Agnes. Talk about twins, talk about Shakespeare’s work and contrast to fatherhood, and the writing is good. Much to discuss on motherhood and women’s roles, too.

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