...& Shakespeare's birth/death day
I can't believe that it is World Book Night again, it is trite but I can't believe how fast time is flying.
I've not paid a huge amount of attention to the official selection up until today but taking a look at them now I am really impressed with the mix of books - and extremely pleased to see that there are short stories and Quick Reads on the list.
However 23rd April is also the day taken to be both Shakespeare's birth and death day and so I'm going to talk about a book relating to this...
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
The publisher website reads:
TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.I will confess to having approached this book with some trepidation, there are so many unknowns in Shakespeare's life that I was worried that the book would be too large in scope and thus lose something.
On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?
Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.
Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is 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.
This book isn't a scholarly or pseudo-scholarly look at Shakespeare's life or work, it isn't even really about him or his plays and writing - it is a story that puts his wife and children front and centre. It brings Stratford-upon-Avon to life and I really felt like I'd managed to travel in time. I do love a book that lets me almost 'smell' the setting.
Hamlet is not one of my favourite plays but having 'watched' it through Agnes' eyes perhaps I can see it a new light too!
Often a novel that is a fictional take on a real person leaves me wondering why the author didn't have more faith in their writing to just write a historical fiction but in this case I do think that the fleshing out of a famous name was a really good thing.
I'm not certain that reading a book about the plague during the current pandemic was the best timing but all in all I liked this book.