Hamnet – April CC Book Club Selection

Our April selection is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, a remarkable historical novel that brings to life the courtship of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, and the heart-wrenching years of raising their children–Susanna, Judith and Hamnet–during the Black Plague of the 1580’s. Per Amazon, the story is "a tender and unforgettable re-imagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, and whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays of all time.”

Hamnet is one of The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2020.

Magnificent and searing…Here is a novel that matches Shakespeare with a woman overwhelmingly more than worthy…So gorgeously written that it transports you from our own plague time right into another and makes you glad to be there.
The Boston Globe

A tour de force…The story O’Farrell weaves in this moving novel is timeless… Hamnet vividly captures the life-changing intensity of maternity in its myriad stages — from the pain of childbirth to the unassuageable grief of loss. Fierce emotions and lyrical prose are what we’ve come to expect of O’Farrell. But with this historical novel she has expanded her repertoire, enriching her narrative with atmospheric details of the sights, smells, and relentless daily toil involved in running a household in Elizabethan England.
– NPR

Miraculous… brilliant… Through the alchemy of her own vision, O’Farrell has created a moving story about the way loss viciously recalibrates a marriage… A richly drawn and intimate portrait of 16th-century English life set against the arrival of one devastating death.
The Washington Post

Since Hamnet is a relatively new (and popular) release, you may want to get on your library waiting list now if you plan to borrow a copy. Discussion begins April 1st. Please join us!

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I play the Amazon game of leaving items in my cart until I need them, watching the prices go up and down from day to day. Hamnet has been $23.95, but today (March 10th) it is $18.39. That’s still not cheap, but if you are on the fence about buying a copy, it’s a bit of an improvement.

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If folks miss the Amazon deal, I see that Hamnet is $19.36 on Thriftbooks (free shipping on orders over $10… love the fact that sometimes I need to order two books to get over the limit).

I am still on waiting list for Hamnet at at local library, will wait a while longer. Another option if time gets tight is Kindle $13.99.

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Hmmm, maybe I’ll order from thriftbooks. I love a hard copy and there are only ebooks in our state system.

Amazon is back at $18.39 today.

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Ok. Thanks to this thread, I should be getting my Hamnet by Thursday.

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Hamnet arrived! It looks like an engrossing read! Should be finished long before 4/1.

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I realize April 1 is right around the corner so I sat down and read more than 1/2 of Hamnet yesterday. It’s very well written imho. Nope, no spoilers.

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Still waiting to get a copy from one of several libraries. :neutral_face:

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Yeah, I was too far down on the waitlist (49 I believe), so I invested in the book and will pass it around my family and then we will donate to our library. They only have e-copies and I like hard copies anyway.

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No word yet on my library wait list. (But yay… the exercise got me get my library card# resent to me, learn how to put books on hold.) So I ordered Hamnet from Amazon for $18.39.

The Kindle version was about $5 cheaper, but this way I can pass the book on to a friend or the library or perhaps even sell to the local used book store. When at home, I prefer a real book… ideally a hardcover like this one.

Now I need to go upstairs and finish the Obama book I received from my husband as Christmas gift.

@Colorado_mom, you won’t be sorry. I bought the book and have already promised to loan my copy to several people – glad to be able to share it!

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Congrats to Maggie O’Farrell:

Discussion begins April 1st, but it’s not too late to pick up the book! Once you do, odds are you won’t be able to put it down.

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Yay, I finished Hamnet last night! It was a quick and well-written book. Thanks for the recommendation! Looking forward to discussing.

After we discuss, will offer it to share with loved ones and then donate to library.

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Whew, library ebook hold just came through! I’m not sure I can finish by April 1 (still sleepy today after two nights of seders) but I will do my best.

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Well, the good thing about the CC Book Club is you can always slide in a few days late. I’ve done so myself a number of times.

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My Amazon Hamnet shipment arrived on Saturday instead of the predicted Monday - Yay. I’ve had a chance to get a few chapters into it and am enjoying the book.

It’s good that I did not keep wishing on a library copy Hamnet. When cancelling the Hold I saw that I was 35 (of 100) on the wait list.

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If you’ve got four hours Kenneth Branaugh’s Hamlet is pretty amazing. We watched it over two nights.

I’m second on the library hold list, and they have eight copies. So I’m getting close, but I will undoubtedly be late joining the party. I’m glad to hear that for most of you, it was a fast read.

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It’s April 1st! Welcome to our discussion of Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.

I loved this novel. I thought it was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. The writing was beautiful and the plot was simple. We are born, we live, we love, we die — sometimes too soon. And along the way, we recognize and develop gifts—be they healing arts or literary ones—that may help others on their own journeys.

Although the story focused on the family of an extraordinarily famous person, I think I would have enjoyed the book almost as much if the characters were entirely fictional. The Shakespeare element did make the plot more intriguing, but his career wasn’t the central focus by any means.

Some questions if you’e interested…

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your first impressions of the novel? Were there any passages that stuck out to you?

  2. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story of this family primarily from the perspective of Agnes, as opposed to her famous husband? What do you think is gained (or lost) by this choice? Why do you think she chooses not to name him?

  3. Little is known about the real Agnes (or Anne) Hathaway. What did you like—or dislike–about her character? Why do you think the author chose to make her a healer and herbalist?

  4. What did you think of the relationship between Agnes her husband? Were they a good match? How does the novel’s portrayal of this marriage differ from others you have seen?

  5. Shakespeare has been portrayed in popular culture countless times. What did you notice about O’Farrell’s version of him? Did anything surprise you or cause you to think differently about such an immensely popular figure?

  6. In this novel, Shakespeare’s family seems to have little interest or understanding about his theatrical career and his writing. Discuss the significance of this choice.

  7. The author visited Stratford-upon-Avon and did extensive research of what is known about the Shakespeare family in order to authentically portray domestic life in small town Tudor England. How successful do you think she was? Are there any examples, descriptions, or moments that stuck out to you?

  8. Why do you think the author included the chapter detailing how the “pestilence” reached the Shakespeare family? What did you think of it?

  9. Maggie O’Farrell said the novel was inspired by the desire to honor the often-overlooked Hamnet Shakespeare. Do you think she did this successfully? What did you think of the choice to have Hamnet “switch places” with Judith?

  10. Discuss the ways in which O’Farrell depicts the experience and emotion of grief. How did you experience it as you were reading? What struck you about the way she depicted Agnes’ emotional and physical state? Did you relate to her or the other members of the family?

  11. At the end of the novel, Agnes watches a premiere performance of Hamlet, with Shakespeare playing the Ghost of Hamlet’s father. The author chooses to end with the line, “Remember me.” Why do you think she chose this, out of all the text in Hamlet? What do you think she is trying to convey?

  12. Why does O’Farrell use the present tense throughout the novel? What effect does this have on the reader?

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