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Hamnet / Maggie O'Farrell / RAC 2022-23

Reading Across Campus


Find out what other people thought about the book by checking out some of these reviews: 

Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado, "Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell", The Literary Review, 2020. Accessed Sept 13 2022,

Helen McAlpin, "The Real 'Hamnet' Died Centuries Ago, But This Novel Is Timeless" NPR Book Reviews, 2020. Accessed Sept 13 2022,

Stephanie Merritt, "Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell review – tragic tale of the Latin tutor’s son", The Guardian, 2020. Accessed Sept 13 2022, 

Geraldine Brooks, "Shakespeare’s Son Died at 11. A Novel Asks How It Shaped His Art". The New York Times, 2020. Accessed Sept 13 2022,

Ron Charles, "Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘Hamnet’ reimagines the life and death of Shakespeare’s only son". The Washington Post, 2020. Accessed Sept 13 2022,

Rachel Hullett, "Hamnet: Review", Book Browse. Originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2020, and  updated for the June 2021 edition. Assessed Sept 13 2022,


"Hamnet", a novel by Maggie O’Farrell that imagines the death of Shakespeare’s 11-year-old son during the bubonic plague, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction on Thursday.

Founded in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle is made up of more than 600 literary critics and book review editors in the United States. The organization’s annual awards, which it typically gives out in the spring to works published the previous year, are unusual in that book critics, rather than authors or academics, select the winners. The awards are open to any book published in English in the United States.

O’Farrell, the author of eight other books, became obsessed with the story of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, when she was at Cambridge University studying English. In her novel, she brought him “so vividly to life the reader is stricken by his loss,” one of the award’s judges, Colette Bancroft, said in a citation.


Women's Prize for Fiction

Maggie O'Farrell has won the Women's Prize for Fiction with her "exceptional" novel Hamnet (Tinder Press), inspired by the life and death of Shakespeare's only son.

She was named winner of the 30,000 [pounds sterling] prize by chair of judges Martha Lane Fox at a digital awards ceremony in London on 9th September, also marking the award's 25th anniversary.

Lane Fox said: "The euphoria of being in the same room for the final judging meeting was quickly eclipsed by the excitement we all feel about this exceptional winner. Hamnet, while set long ago, like all truly great novels expresses something profound about the human experience that seems both extraordinarily current and at the same time, enduring." 

It was chosen from a shortlist featuring Dominicana by Angie Cruz (John Murray), Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton), A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (Mantle), The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate) and Weather by Jenny Offill (Granta).

Source: "Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet wins Women's Prize for Fiction." The Bookseller, no. 5897, 11 Sept. 2020, p. 11. Gale General OneFile, Accessed 9 Sept. 2022.

Waterstone's Book of the Year

Already the winner of this year's Women's prize for fiction, Hamnet is O'Farrell's eighth novel, and follows Agnes as her 11-year-old son falls ill with the plague. It won an "overwhelming majority" of the poll of Waterstones booksellers, ahead of titles including Dara McAnulty's Diary of a Young Naturalist, Naoise Dolan's novel Exciting Times, and Craig Brown's Beatles biography One Two Three Four.

Alex McQueen at Waterstones Islington called it "timely, poetic and with an almost filmic ability to morph between perspective and scene", while Callie Limb at Waterstones Burton upon Trent described it as "heart-wrenching, beautiful and deft in phrase".

Bea Carvalho, the chain's fiction buyer, said Hamnet had been the "clear standout" from a year of brilliant books, and predicted it would become a classic. It can certainly expect many more sales in the run-up to Christmas, with the in-store promotions that accompany the book of the year reliably providing a major boost.

"Hamnet is a literary treat which offers texture to the history of our most famous playwright, a portrait of parenthood's dazzling highs and devastating lows, and a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit: this wonderful novel truly has something for readers of all tastes," said Carvalho. "It is a masterwork by an author at the height of her power."

O'Farrell said it was a "huge honour" to win the book of the year title, "especially as I know that the award is nominated by those most discerning of readers: booksellers". Last year, the prize was won by The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy.

"Without booksellers' expert guidance and knowledge, my reading shelves would be much the poorer. 2020 has been a strange and challenging year for all of us: what better time to listen to the narratives of others and lose ourselves in a book?" O'Farrell said.

Source: Alison Flood "Maggie O'Farrell's 'wonderful' Hamnet declared Waterstones book of the year; Historical novel depicting the death of Shakespeare's son from plague has already won this year's Women's prize for fiction." Guardian [London, England], 2 Dec. 2020, p. NA. Gale General OneFile, Accessed 9 Sept. 2022.