Edinburgh author Maggie O'Farrell's novel Hamnet is named Waterstones Book of the Year

Edinburgh-based author Maggie O'Farrell has claimed one of Britain's major literary honours after her new novel was named Waterstones Book of the Year.

Maggie O'Farrell's novel Hamnet has been named Waterstones Book of the Year months after it took the Women's Prize For Fiction award. Picture: Murdo Macleod
Maggie O'Farrell's novel Hamnet has been named Waterstones Book of the Year months after it took the Women's Prize For Fiction award. Picture: Murdo Macleod

The company’s own booksellers across the UK have voted for Hamnet to take the coveted title months after it won O’Farrell the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

The novel is a fictionalised account of the impact of the illness and death of the son of the playwright William Shakespeare when he was just 11.

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Billed as “is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten," it is one of two books published by O’Farrell this year.

Maggie O'Farrell's novel Hamnet is the 2020 Waterstones Book of the Year.

Last month O’Farrell, who was born in Northern Ireland, but spent much of her chilhood in Scotland, published her first book for children, Where Snow Angels Go, last month.

In its announcement today, Waterstones said Hamnet “celebrates how family, community, nature and art can offer hope through the darkest of times,” and also described the novel, which was released in March, as an “especially prescient message for this turbulent year.”

O’Farrell has landed the honour less than a month after Glasgow author Douglas Stuart become only the second Scot to win the Booker Prize, with his debut novel Shuggie Bain.

Last month Shuggie Bain was named Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year by the company’s booksellers north of the border.

O’Farrell has followed in the footsteps of Greta Thunberg, Philip Pullman and Jessie Burton, Sally Rooney, author of Normal People, in being honoured by Waterstones, which had shortlisted 12 novels for its 2020 UK-wide book of the year title.

O’Farrell said: “I’m over the moon that Hamnet has been chosen as Waterstones’ Book of the Year.

“It is one of my favourite awards and I make a point of reading the winning book each year. It’s a huge honour to be added to this list, especially as I know that the award is nominated by those most discerning of readers, booksellers.

“Without their expert guidance and knowledge, my reading shelves would be much the poorer.

"This 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?”

Bea Carvalho, Waterstones’ fiction buyer, said: “We’ve been hugely impressed by the abundance of brilliant books published this year and, for our booksellers, Hamnet is the clear standout title: a work of immense style and emotional heft which will surely go on to be a future classic.

“Maggie O’Farrell’s novel 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. It is a masterwork by an author at the height of her power.”

Writing in The Scotsman earlier this year, critic Stuart Kelly described Hamnet as “a remarkable piece of work.”

He added: “This is a staggeringly beautiful and unbearably poignant novel. O’Farrell is one of the most surprisingly quiet radicals in fiction.

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