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This month we are starting with last year’s critical hit Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. In this evocative and moving novel, O’Farrell tells the story of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, who died as a child, and explores the influence he had on Shakespeare’s most famous work, Hamlet.
Another novel set in plague-ridden fifteenth century England featuring a famous playwright is Tambourlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh. In this novella, Welsh imagines the last days of Christopher Marlowe before his death in 1593. Marlowe is tying to trace the writer of a seditious pamphlet, who is calling himself Tambourlaine, one of Marlowe’s own creations.
The titular character of Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi is also visited by his own creation, as his muse, the elusive Mary Fox, takes issue with the violence against women in his writing. Oyeyemi’s playful and entertaining novel modernises the myths of Reynard the Fox and Bluebeard, to great effect.
In The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood subverts the Bluebeard myth, making the Robber Bridegroom a Robber Bride to explore female friendships and rivalries. Following the death of their friend Zenia, three women meet to come to terms with the pain that has been inflicted upon their relationships by their now dead friend.
Another novel dealing with female friendship is The Group by Mary McCarthy. The novel follows the lives of eight women following graduation from Vassar. The novel opens at the wedding of Kay Strong to Harald Peterson, who works in theatre. Their relationship will be a rocky one until Harald eventually commits Kay to a psychiatric hospital.
Rosemary Woodhouse is also a young woman recently married to a man who works in the theatre in Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. Like Kay, her relationship deteriorates as she comes to distrust her huband, along with the residents of their building, after she falls pregnant with her first child. She starts to feel like there is something very dangerous about the child she is carrying.
Pregnancy and the fears that come with it are also the central conceit of Nutshell by Ian McEwan, only here the novel is narrated by the unborn chld, rather than the mother. Too add to the intrigue, the unborn child is none other than Hamlet, who listens to his mother Gertrude’s plans to murder his father.
So there we have it, from Hamnet to Hamlet in six bookish steps! Have you read any of my choices?
Next month (February 6, 2021), we’ll start with Anne Tyler’s latest novel, Redhead By the Side of the Road.
Six Degrees #6degrees hamlet hamnet helen oyeyemi ian mcewan ira levin louise welsh Margaret Atwood mary mccarthy mr fox rosemary's baby sixdegreesofseparation tambourlaine must die the group the robber bride
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!