Maggie O'Farrell's 'wonderful' Hamnet declared Waterstones book of the year

Alison Flood
·2-min read

Maggie O’Farrell’s story about the short life of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, has been named Waterstones book of the year, with the chain’s booksellers saying its message of “hope through the darkest of times” was “especially prescient for this turbulent year”.

Related: Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell review – immersive Shakespearean drama

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.”

Related: Maggie O’Farrell: ‘Having to bury a child must be unlike anything else’

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.