By Maggie O’Farrell
Read June 2021
O’Farrell’s fiction gives us a possible story of Hamnet Shakespeare, the only son of William Shakespeare, who died at age eleven. The novel alternates between the stories of the last days of Hamnet and that of the courtship and marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway to just after Hamnet’s death. O’Farrell never actually names Shakespeare or give Anne’s last name in the book, but her story isn’t inconsistent with the limited history we have of Shakespeare.
This reader is always a little wary of fictionalized accounts of actual lives. This particular novel avoided the aspects this reader dislikes—providing dialog of the person being described, especially when it pertains to how they are feeling about a situation.
Her account is believable and engaging. The descriptions of the concern felt by Hamnet of his sister’s illness, the birth of Anne’s first child, and especially the depth of her grief at Hamnet’s death are all very well done.
This reader does recommend this fictionalized account of this part of Shakespeare’s life as one that provides a look at aspects of his life and his family.