Irish writer Maggie O’Farrell's novel wins major €33k prize

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book titleMaggie O’Farrell has won the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction for Hamnet, her novel inspired by the life and death of Shakespeare’s only son. It was chosen from a shortlist that included the Booker Prize winning Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel , the concluding part of her double Booker winning Wolf Hall trilogy.

Hamnet, set in 16th century Stratford-upon-Avon, was originally planned as a book about father and son. Shakespeare wrote his tragedy Hamlet just a few years after the death of his only son, from the plague, aged 11.

But O’Farrell changed course after discovering that Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, had been maligned by history. Hathaway, who was older than the Bard and married him while pregnant, has been depicted by “scholars, novelists and screenwriters” as “an illiterate peasant” who Shakespeare “ran away to London to get away from”, the author said.

“I was outraged on behalf of the woman we know as Anne Hathaway, because I feel that she has been treated with such sort of hostility, just barefaced misogyny,” the novelist told the PA news agency. There is nothing to back up the popular depiction but there is evidence “that Shakespeare did really love her,” she said.

Martha Lane Fox, Lastminute.com co-founder and chairwoman of the judges, said: “Hamnet, while set long ago, like all truly great novels expresses something profound about the human experience that seems both extraordinarily current and at the same time, enduring.”

Other books on the shortlist for the prize, now in its 25th year, were Dominicana by Angie Cruz, A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes, and Weather by Jenny Offill.

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