This book should be sold with a big box of tissues, because I challenge you to read it to the end and remain unmoved. At first I didn’t want to read it (plague! death of a child!), and so I waited for the pandemic to calm down to consider it, and for summer to really start (yes, it’s still part of my #20BooksofSummer, I’m just late posting!). I’m glad I did, because there’s no telling how I would have reacted if I’d read it in March 2020 (when it was released) or in the winter 2020-2021: I would probably have been devastated!
It’s been years (almost a decade! 😱) since I read anything by O’Farrell, but it doesn’t matter, as this novel is very much unlike the ones I’d read before. I’m glad of this turn that she’s taken! I could not avoid the huge publicity about the book, and therefore I knew a little bit about it, but I didn’t expect to love it as much.
I also feared that I would miss out because I don’t really know much Shakespeare, but I didn’t feel left out. I understand that Maggie O’Farrell used some real factoids about Shakespeare’s family and weaved some fiction around it. Probably some deeper knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and works would have made the experience even better but it’s not a must. I took it like a wonderful story with great research about daily life in England’s 16th century.
I enjoyed O’Farrell characterization, especially Agnes, who is always walking a fine line between the magical, mythical world and the real one. The way the two could coexist in peace in that period of history is quite convincing. I also loved the writing: some people might find it too ornate, but I liked the rhythm (at times almost an incantation) and the vividness of the images. Thanks to its (numerous) metaphors we can feel with 5 senses the world of Agnes, its colors, scents and textures. It also reminded me of the best pages of Wolf Hall, but in a more lyrical way.
I’ve heard of Maggie O’Farrell’s 2022 novel: The Marriage Portrait, and I’ve added it right away to my wishlist!