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A Novel of the Plague

By Maggie O’Farrell




In 1580’s A young Latin tutor falls in love with a eccentric young woman. Agnes Hathaway 26, loves being outside, in nature. She often carries a falcon on her glove on her walks through the woods.  She is known for her gift of healing by developing potions with plants for cures.

Her husband Will, is only 18, and still searching for his purpose in life.  He is the eldest son of a glove maker. Will’s father has lost his fortune, his reputation and was abusive. The family was no longer held in esteem in the small community.

Once it is discovered that Agnes is pregnant, they are forced to marry. She and her young husband settle on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon in a tiny apartment attached to the home of her in-laws. Within months they have a baby daughter, Susannah.  Two years later the couple have twins, Judith and Hamnet.  In 1596, both Judith and Hamnet become deathly ill, Judith survives, but Hamnet, at the age of eleven, dies. Immediately after the funeral, Will abruptly returns to London. He fears to not return to work quickly will cost him his position as a writer for a playhouse company.  Agnes and Will are both devastated by loss, but separated by many miles and forced to grieve alone.

“Anyone, Eliza is thinking, who describes dying as ‘slipping away’ or ‘peaceful’ has never witnessed it happen. Death is violent, death is a struggle. The body clings to life, as ivy to a wall, and will not easily let go, will not surrender its grip without a fight.”


HAMNET is a heart wrenching book of marriage, family and grief. It’s atmospheric and transports you with vivid descriptions and beautiful prose to the late 1500’s.  The gripping story starts with Hamnet realizing his sister is very ill and he is desperately trying to find someone to help her, but no one is home.  You  can’t help but be immediately captivated. What will this young boy do?

The writing is a work of art, beautifully written and brilliantly plotted. It is delightfully written from a third person perspective giving readers a wider vantage. Agnes, portrayed as a loving mother who will do anything for her children, is the protagonist of the story and propels the story well.  She makes you feels her grief from loss and her frustration with her husband being so far away. The ending leaves you with hope and understanding.

Maggie O’Farrell is a British author of contemporary fiction. She frequently writes about  the relationships between sisters and about loss and it’s impact on relationships. HAMNET is a NYT best seller, and has won numerous awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Award winning narrator, Ell Potter does a stellar job with the voices, mood and pacing of the book.  The audio book was a delightful listen.

“What is given may be taken away, at any time. Cruelty and devastation wait for you around corners, inside coffers, behind doors: they can leap out at you at any time like a thief or brigand. The trick is never to let down your guard. Never think you are safe. Never take for granted that your children’s hearts beat, that they sup milk, that they draw breath, that they walk and speak and smile and argue and play. Never for a moment forget they may be gone, snatched from you, in the blink of an eye, born away from you like thistledown.”

Publisher    Random House Audio

Published   July 20, 2020

Narrated     Ell Potter

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