Maggie O’Farrell’s novel Hamnet has won the Women’s prize for fiction. The book is set in an England stalked by a plague that kills the young son of William Shakespeare. O’Farrell’s eighth novel is a study of bereavement. It opens with the death of the 11-year-old boy and delves into the relationship between Hamnet’s mother, Agnes, and her famous playwright husband.
Chair of judges Martha Lane Fox said O’Farrell’s novel was a “truly great” work of fiction and an “exceptional winner”. “It expresses something profound about the human experience that seems both extraordinarily current and at the same time, enduring,” she said. Hamnet beat novels including the third in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, and Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other, to win the £30,000 award.
O’Farrell, who was presented with the prize in a digital ceremony on Wednesday night said, “I keep thinking it must be some kind of elaborate prank. There wasn’t really any particle of me that thought it would happen. Being on the shortlist was kind of enough and it never occurred to me they would choose my book. You’ve got these huge literary goddesses Mantel and Evaristo on the shortlist, they’re all such fantastic works telling such diverse stories, from different times and divergent places and perspective.”
The Women’s prize, now in its 25th year, was set up after the Booker failed to include any female writers on its shortlist in 1991. It is intended to reward “excellence, originality and accessibility in writing by women in English from across the world”, and has been won by novels including Andrea Levy’s Small Island and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. Jenny Offill’s Weather, Natalie Haynes’s A Thousand Ships, and Angie Cruz’s Dominicana were also in the running for this year’s prize.
To know more about Hamnet, click here.