by Maggie O'Farrell
This impeccably researched and beautifully written fictionalization of 1580s England pulses with magic and tenderness against a backdrop of buboes and the Black Death. As the plague spreads to the Stratford home of the family Shakespeare, matron Agnes, both wistful and wise, whittles away under the lurking certainty that death comes calling for her children. We hear too from Hamnet, Shakespeare's eleven-year-old son, whose voice supplies such emotional intelligence and clear-eyed compassion as events unfold that you can't help feel as if he is your own son in need to protection. This is literary historical fiction at its absolute best.