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Likely Stories : Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

William Shakespeare is surely one of the greatest talents of all time.  His works are witty, explosive, endearing, and charming admired and loved across the globe.  Maggie O’Farrell has written a novel that captures the essence of Shakespeare himself.  Maggie wrote eight novels, including her latest, Hamnet.  She was born in Northern Ireland in 1972, and now lives in Edinburgh. 



Maggie wrote, “A boy is coming down a flight of stairs. / The passage is narrow and twisted back on itself.  He takes each step slowly, sliding himself along the wall, his boots meeting each tread with a thud. / Near the bottom, he pauses for a moment, looking back the way he has come.  Then suddenly resolute, he leaps the final three stairs, as is his habit.  He stumbles as he lands, falling to his knees on the flagstone floor. // He gets up, rubbing his legs.  He looks one way, up the stairs; he looks the other, unable to decide which way he should turn. / The room is empty, the fire ruminating in his grate, orange embers below soft, spiraling smoke.  His injured kneecaps throb in time with his heartbeat.  He stands with one hand resting on the latch of the door to the stairs, the scuffed leather tip of his boot raised, poised for motion, for flight.  His hair, light-coloured, almost gold, rises up from his brow in tufts. / There is no one here” (5).

William Shakespeare’s father, John, also plays a role in this novel.  Maggie writes, “John’s business still thrives, after a fashion, because people will always need gloves, and if these men know of his secret dealings in the wool trade, his summons for not attending church and fines for dumping waste in the street, so be it.  John can take in his stride their disapproval, their fines and their demands, their snide mutterings about the ruination of his family, the exclusion from guild meetings.  His house is one of the finest in the town: there is always that. 

What John cannot bear is that not one of them will take a drink with him, will break bread at his table, will warm themselves at his hearth” (20-21).

Judith is Hamnet’s sister, she “is lying on the bed and the walls appear to be bulging inwards, then flexing back.  In, out, in out.  The posts around her parent’s bed, in the corner, writhe and twist like serpents; the ceiling above her ripples, like the surface of a lake; her hands seem at once to close and then very far away. […] Her face and chest are hot, burning, covered with slick sweat, but her face and chest are ice-cold. […] To block out the walls, the serpentine bedposts, the moving ceiling, she shuts her eyes” (21).

This well-crafted story of Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell, is an excellent tale for any lovers of Shakespeare and his time.  5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!