A critically acclaimed, prize-winning novel, I started reading this with high expectations. And…. then I faltered. It took me longer than it should have to get my head around the shifting time narratives as they were not signposted as well as they could have been. And the beginning seemed a little slow to me. Could it be… was I going to be disappointed in this book?
I kept reading, and what an absolute masterpiece of a book it is. The writing sings, becoming as the book reaches its conclusion, a hymn to loss and grief, the soul of a mother in the face of the loss of her child laid naked on the page, exposed in all its helpless misery. The character of Agnes is sculpted with exquisite attention to detail. She is the heart of this book, not the titular character of Hamnet, and certainly not her husband, a man who remains largely nameless in the book. It is not his story – it is hers. There are so many examples of evocative writing, it becomes almost impossible to pick out a favourite – but this one for me is complex, layered and moving:
‘The silence swells between them; it expands and wraps itself around them; it acquires shape and form and tendrils, which wave off into the air, like the threads trailing from a broken web.’
The use of ‘s’ sounds throughout the passage reads almost as if it is a comforting shushing sound, but at the same time is a hiss, as Agnes struggles to contain her anger, her grief, her resentment and her loss.
A worthy winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, this book is one that lingers in the mind long after you have read the final page.
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