Book of the Month – June 2020

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

One of our greatest living novelists resurrects the short life of Hamnet Shakespeare, in this lyrically written and emotionally devastating account of the Bard’s only son. Utterly immersive and convincing, Hamnet is a poignant period tale that not only shines a light on an oft-neglected area of Shakespearean history but speaks to wider themes of grief and loss with impeccable poise and unflinching honesty.

"Not enough people know that Shakespeare had a son called Hamnet. And yet he was so important. Without Hamnet’s early death at the age of 11 we wouldn’t have the plays Hamlet or Twelfth Night," reflected Maggie O'Farrell as she began her conversation with Festival director Peter Florence at Hay Festival Digital last month. "Biographies often give Hamnet just a brief mention and follow it with remarks about the high rates of infant mortality at the time, as if it wasn’t so important, as if he wasn’t grieved. I just don't believe that was true."

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Buy the book

Hay Player: Watch Maggie O'Farrell speaking about Hamnet at Hay Festival Digital 2020

Further reading...

"Having to bury a child must be unlike anything else", The Guardian

"I knew I’d be putting myself into the skin of a woman who watches her son die", iNews

About the author

Maggie O’Farrell is the author of the Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling 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. She lives in Edinburgh.

About Hay Festival's Book of the Month

Hay Festival's Book of the Month is our monthly recommendation of a title we've loved and think holds added resonance today. While many recommendations celebrate the new, this is a chance to celebrate great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry – new and old – that reaches through time to touch the present.

Throughout the month, we'll share interesting links and articles relating to our selection on social media using #HayBookoftheMonth and invite you all to get involved with your questions and comments.

Over on Hay Player, a special playlist of talks to view online offer additional perspectives on the books from some of the greatest writers and thinkers around the world.

If you'd like to recommend a book for consideration, please email

Happy reading!