Category Reading

Review: Morag Charlwood

Comment: Highly Recommended

Author’s Dedication: For Will

This lyrical novel draws the reader in from the very opening scene of the young Hamnet stumbling as he leaps the last three stairs. His destiny is before us as he falls on the flagstone floor. We know we have met both Hamnet and the inevitability of his fate. 

Yet we are gripped by beautifully lyrical and empathetic story-telling that takes us right into Elizabethan family life … and death. Maggie O’Farrell’s use of the present tense and internal point of view across her various characters and sometimes, creatures, gives the narrative a very present feeling. You are there, seeing, smelling, hearing, caring and, in my case, sometimes weeping. It is a story in which the past is ever present. Agnes observes during the novel’s denouement (which I won’t reveal) “The presence of such enormous, distracting absences.” This axis of presence and absence shapes this gorgeous tale across time and place. 

I enjoyed “Shakespeare Spotting” as I absorbed the novel. The “Life and Times” aspect is interesting and clearly well-researched. Maggie O’Farrell’s end papers are well worth a read. There is an article at the end of the book on the author’s researches: “How to write a house.” This is full of Stratford information, her reading and learning about, and from, Elizabethan herbals and, if I recall, pestilence.

I was inevitably called to remember some other “Writing back” novels and plays that I admire such as Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Hamlet and philosophy) and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (filling the gaps in Jane Eyre.)

I also thought about Angela Carter’s wondrous novel, Wise Children, a book that plays with Shakespeare’s twins, coincidences and wisdom.

Happy Reading! 

Morag Charlwood

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