In describing the theme of the book Waterstones says:
“One of our greatest living novelists resurrects the short life of Hamnet Shakespeare, in this lyrically written and emotionally devastating account of the Bard’s only son. Utterly immersive and convincing, Hamnet is a poignant period tale that not only shines a light on an oft-neglected area of Shakespearean history but speaks to wider themes of grief and loss with impeccable poise and unflinching honesty.”
The words “speaks to wider themes” I connected to the fact that a single piece of writing can awaken many impressions within us. Reading Hamnet I was reminded of the words of another writer below:
“No single event can awaken within us a stranger whose existence we had never suspected. To live is to be slowly born.”
Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900-1944)
His point, according to Bodhipaksa was that these awakenings are not random, they come from somewhere. A chain of cause and effect. I feel that way about writing and reading. It is important to me that each reading/writing experience awakes a recognition of ideas, concepts and feelings within. The associations can be endless such as being “slowly born” above, made me think of burning fires of purification. Perhaps as I have just been reading Hamnet with references to the plague. I love mindful reading: being present in the moment with the story and the sensations and connections the brain makes.
“In living mindfully we are more conscious in the moment of choice. First we become more aware that there are actually choices to be made. Mindfulness creates, or perhaps better reveals, a gap between stimulus and response. In every moment we perceive sensations, thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and we habitually respond to these.”
Why am I referring to mindfulness and philosophy in relation to Hamlet? Because I think the book captures the fleeting impressions of a woman’s growth at different life stages through the characters: Hamlet’s mother, his sister, his grandmother. Grief is a way we grow in maturity through the acknowledgement that life is fleeting and beautiful. These are the words I want to apply to this piece of writing: fleeting, beautiful.
The small accumulative details O’Farrell uses for her character’s day to day lives in a household, their feelings, the journey of a plague across an ocean, are well thought out. For example in this extract:
“…this fit. It is altogether unlike anything she has felt before. It makes her think of a hand drawing on a glove, of a lamb slithering wet from a ewe…”
I was drawn in by Angus. The story of a maturing woman, a sister, a mother, a healer, a caregiver, a griever, an observer.
I won’t say anymore, as you must be the judge. But this is a highly recommended read, like all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books.
Who is Emma Parfitt?
Emma Parfitt is a proofreader with 18 years of writing experience with businesses, academics and creative writers. She obtained a Creative Writing MA (St Andrews University) and a PhD in Storytelling (Warwick University). Then set up her own proofreading business and became a published author of fiction as well as academic literature such as Young People, Learning & Storytelling (Palgrave Macmillan).