By Maggie O’Farrell

For all the hundreds of thousands of words playwright William Shakespeare wrote, few now exist to document the facts of his own life.

Author Maggie O’Farrell has taken those few details and expanded them into a shimmering novel about the family he left behind to write plays in London.
The novel opens with Shakespeare’s son Hamnet home alone searching for his mother, grandmother, servants or any adult to help him.
He and his twin sister Judith had been playing with a ribbon and a kitten in the yard when Judith started feeling unwell and went upstairs to lay down. Every time he checks on her, she is worse.
Their mother Agnes is a mile away trying to coax swarming bees back into their hives. As an herbalist and healer, she would know how to help Judith. There’s no one in his grandfather’s glove-making workshop either. Nor in the cookhouse, the brewhouse or the washhouse.  He goes to the doctor’s house, but the doctor is away. His wife demands suspiciously if Judith has lumps, a sign of plague.

Hamnet is alone.

“Every life has its kernel, its hub, its epicentre, from which everything flows out, to which everything returns. This moment is the absent mother’s: the boy, the empty house, the deserted yard, the unheard cry. Him standing here, at the back of the house, calling for the people who had fed him, swaddled him, rocked him to sleep, held his hand as he took his first steps, taught him to use a spoon, to blow on broth before he ate it, to take care crossing the street, to let sleeping dogs lie, to swill out a cup before drinking, to stay away from deep water.

“It will lie at her very core for the rest of her life.”

O’Farrell alternately tells of Hamnet’s illness and death, and then of Agnes’s life and marriage to William Shakespeare. By turns, her story is sensual, poignant and enchanting.

This is a book that will capture your imagination and transport you to another world and another time.

About the Author: Maggie O’Farrell (1972 – )

Born in Northern Ireland and raised in Wales and Scotland, Maggie O’Farrell’s novels win award after award. Her first novel, AFTER YOU’D GONE won the Betty Trask Award. In 2010, her novel THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE won the Costa Novel Award. She later was twice shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award for INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE (2014) and THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (2017).

HAMNET won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020.

After reading English literature at New Hall, Cambridge (now Murray Edwards College), she worked as a journalist in Hong Kong and as the deputy literary editor of The Independent on Sunday. She has also taught creative writing at the University of Warwick in Coventry and Goldsmith’s College in London.

She is married to novelist William Sutcliffe, whom she met at Cambridge.  They live in Edinburgh with their three children.


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