Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell has had a long-term fascination with the story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, Hamlet. Her new novel, Hamnet, is a portrait of loss and a marriage, set in Warwickshire in the 1580s and centres on Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway (also known as Agnes), who has been intriguingly absent from history. She has three children, Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. The boy Hamnet dies in 1856, aged eleven, and four years later her husband writes the play Hamlet.
Here she shares her current reading list:
“I’m glad that no one but my family can see my bedside table as it’s a shocking mess: books piled up and toppling over and slithering into heaps. I am a terrible insomniac but the upside is that I get a lot of reading done. I’ve been working my way through all the Mary Oliver poems I can get my hands on. I have four or five of her anthologies currently on the go – Blue Horses, A Thousand Mornings, Felicity and Devotions. She looks at everything from a skewed and surprised angle. Her joy – in language, in nature, in being alive – radiates from every page.
“I’m also re-reading John McGahern’s books. A favourite is Amongst Women. The pacing is perfect, the structure winding tighter and tighter, the evocation of rural life breathtaking, with all its attendant cycles and deep resentments. Moran is a terrifying creation: his suppressed rage, his struggles to come to terms with his past, his sudden losses of temper.
“I was sent the proofs of Before My Actual Heart Breaks by Tish Delaney. This debut novel has the tagline “an unforgettable love story about growing up and not getting out”. It jumped out at me because it’s about Northern Ireland in the 1970s. The title intrigues me: that insertion of “actual” in there elevates what might have been quotidian into something other.”
Hamnet (Tinder, €18.50) is published on March 31.
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