Second Tuesday Book Club will meet in-person from 7 to 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday, September 13, in the program room at Schimelpfenig Library, to choose our 2023 reading list, and then to discuss Maggie O’ Farrell’s prize-winning novel Hamnet. We will observe social distancing, with face coverings recommended. Please email Cathe Spencer at email@example.com if you have questions or comments. See you at Schimelpfenig Library for voting and conversation!
Hamnet: A Novel by Maggie O’Farrell
Historical Note: In the 1580s, a couple living in Henley Street, Stratford, had three children: Susanna, then Hamnet and Judith, who were twins.
The boy, Hamnet, died in 1596, aged eleven.
Four years or so later, the father wrote a play called Hamlet.
This simple note, which is factual, is the starting point for Maggie O’Farrell’s wonderfully moving novel about the wife and children of a successful English playwright, and the unexpected illness that brings lasting sadness and irreversible change into their lives.
Hamnet was awarded Britain’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020, and honored by its judges as “a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.”
Writing in the New York Times, novelist Geraldine Brooks comments that “This novel will be about grief: how we experience it, how we respond to it, what it costs and whom it damages. “Every life has its kernel, its hub, its epicenter, from which everything flows out, to which everything returns,” she writes. “This moment is the absent mother’s: the boy, the empty house, the deserted yard, the unheard cry. … It will lie at her very core, for the rest of her life.”
Ms. Brooks goes on to write that “Hamnet is at once about the transfiguration of life into art — it is O’Farrell’s extended speculation on how Hamnet’s death might have fueled the creation of one of his father’s greatest plays — and at the same time, it is a master class in how she, herself, does it. As it unfolds, it brings its story to a tender and ultimately hopeful conclusion: that even the greatest grief, the most damaged marriage and most shattered heart might find some solace, some healing.”
Reviewer Laura Collins-Hughes of the Boston Globe calls Hamnet “magnificent and searing … The boy’s death is the clawing grief at the center of O’Farrell’s tale. But what sprawls around it is a family saga so bursting with life, touched by magic, and anchored in affection that I only wish it were true … Of all the stories that argue and speculate about Shakespeare’s life, about whether he even wrote his own plays, here is a novel that matches him with Agnes/Anne, a woman overwhelmingly more than worthy. Hamnet, so gorgeously written that it transports you from our own plague time right into another and makes you glad to be there … will make you think tenderly of Shakespeare, and darkly, too. But Agnes? She is wondrous all the way through.”
Maggie O’Farrell was born in Northern Ireland in 1972, and grew up in Scotland and Wales. She is a graduate of Cambridge University, and has worked as a journalist and teacher of creative writing. She has won acclaim for nine novels and a memoir, and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2021. She now lives in Edinburgh with her husband and children. Her newest work of fiction, The Marriage Portrait, is set in Renaissance Italy, and tells the story of young duchess Lucrezia de’ Medici.