Hay Festival: Maggie O'Farrell talks to Peter Florence

Maggie O'Farrell talks to Peter Florence about her latest acclaimed novel, Hamnet.


Saturday 23rd May, 2020 @ 1:00 pm

  • In Conversation
  • Questions & Answers
  • Talk


About the Event

Maggie O'Farrell talks to Peter Florence about her latest acclaimed novel, Hamnet - shortlisted for the Women's Prize in Fiction. 

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.

Maggie O'Farrell is the author of the memoir I Am, I Am, I Am, and eight novels: After You'd Gone, My Lover's Lover, The Distance Between Us, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox, The Hand That First Held Mine, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, Instructions For A Heatwave, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, This Must Be The Place, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, and Hamnet.

This event is live and there will be a Q&A afterwards.

About the Book


Maggie O'Farrell

Publisher:Headline Publishing Group

Publication date:31 Mar 2020


4.27 out of 5
18 reviews
"O’Farrell seems always to be tugging at the reader’s sleeve, telling us to feel something"
Literary Review
"The grief of Hamnet’s parents as they watch their adored child succumb to the plague is hauntingly described in Maggie O’Farrell’s novel"
The Spectator
"Shakespeare’s wife takes centre stage in a superb imagining of the impact of the death of the couple’s son"
Financial Times
"This novel also fills in a vacancy, turning the bare fact of Hamnet’s death into a tribute to family bonds and to theatrical power"
Times Literary Supplement
"Nobody writes more movingly about intimate family relationships, especially children, than O'Farrell, who is that rarest of writers; a genuine literary/commercial crossover"
The Bookseller
"O’Farrell’s remarkable novel about Shakespeare’s son is both painful and satisfying"
New Statesman
"a visceral, lushly drawn story"
"[Weaves] fact with rich imagination"
"The death of the Bard’s son prompts this powerful novel about parental grief"
The Sunday Times
"It's a beautifully written novel but I confess I read it with a faint impatience"
Evening Standard

Told in Maggie O'Farrell's unique voice, HAMNET reveals for the first time in fiction the story of heartbreaking loss which inspired Shakespeare's most celebrated play