Plano Reads: Hamnet

The Brown Bag Book Club invites you to join us for a discussion of Hamnet: a Novel of the Plague. The Brown Bag Book Club will meet in person in the conference room at Parr Library on April 28, 2022 at noon. Masking is encouraged and there is adequate room to carefully social distance.

Hamnet: a Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell

William Shakespeare is both famous and obscure.  While his plays and poems are possibly amongst the best known, the circumstances of his life are obscure.  Maggie O’Farrell uses this to her advantage to enable some creative license.  She expertly takes the known threads of Shakespeare’s life as the bones for a story of a loving, passionate, and complicated marriage marred by tragedy.  Will marries Agnes Hathaway, a free-spirited and intuitive woman.  It is Agnes who sees that Will has gifts that can only be realized away from their home.  Agnes conspires to have Will sent to London, thinking she will follow.  Unfortunately, the fragile health of their child prevents it.  While Will’s gift for writing brings prosperity to the couple, he seldom is able to return home.  In a twist of fate Hamnet, the most robust of their children, is taken by Plague.  The grief and loss of Hamnet drive a further wedge in their marriage.  When news of Hamlet, a new play by Will reaches Agnes, she goes to London to confront her husband.

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Historical sources on Agnes (aka Anne) Hathaway Shakespeare are few, so O’Farrell’s imagination freely ranges in this tale of deepest love and loss. Flashbacks document the Shakespeares’ marriage; O’Farrell offering a gentler rendering than the traditional view. While Hamnet’s death inspires aspects of Hamlet, Shakespeare is not the foremost player here ( He is all head, that one. All head, with not much sense. ); rather, it is Agnes, vibrant, uncannily perceptive, who takes center stage. While O’Farrell encapsulates atmosphere through small sensory details (golden honey dripping from a comb, the smell of lavender sprinkled into a vat of soap) she is laser-focused on human connections, their ebb and flow, and how they can drown a person. This striking, painfully lovely novel captures the very nature of grief. – Booklist, 2020

O’Farrell draws us into Agnes’ mixed emotions as the years go by and she sees Will on his increasingly infrequent visits “inhabiting it–that life he was meant to live, that work he was intended to do.” Hamnet’s death–bitterly ironic, as he was always the stronger twin–drives the couple farther apart, and news of a new play called Hamlet sends Agnes to London in a rage. O’Farrell’s complex, moving finale shows her watching the performance and honoring her husband’s ability to turn their grief into art. A gripping drama of the conflict between love and destiny. – Kirkus, 2020


The Brown Bag Book Club invites you to join us for a discussion of Hamnet: a Novel of the Plague. The Brown Bag Book Club will meet in person in the conference room at Parr Library on April 28, 2022 at noon.

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