Review by Heather O’Connor
I bought this book without any knowledge of it, but who can resist buying a special at Readings in Carlton? Hamnet is a novel inspired by what little is known about Shakespeare’s son, a twin to his sister, Judith, who falls ill unto death with the plague. It is worth reading the whole book for the heart-breaking description of how the plague spread around the world, finally arriving at Stratford-on-Avon. There are traumatic descriptions of how Agnes, Shakespeare’s wife and mother of the twins, tries to save her children using her deep knowledge of herbal and other natural remedies. There are so many parallels with today’s plague and how it is affecting developing nations. Meanwhile, the unnamed William Shakespeare is off in London establishing his reputation as the greatest writer of his time. When the play, Hamlet, is first performed it is perceived by the family as referring to Hamnet; the play firmly establishes Shakespeare’s pre-eminence in the theatre but does little to comfort the grieving family. The challenges faced by families trying to survive in 1596, when faced with an unstoppable plague and how they are split apart physically and emotionally, are dealt with in this timely novel. Not quite enough about Shakespeare the man and writer for my curiosity, so I will have to try elsewhere for a good biography.