I’ve always believed people who read books are more receptive to new ideas. Possibly because that’s partly what I get from reading books. Review sites like Amazon and Goodreads have changed my view on that. Which brings me to reviews of Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell’s magnum opus inspired by the family life of William Shakespeare.
After reading the first few pages, I wasn’t sure Hamnet was a book I was going to get on with. I found the writing style quite difficult to digest. 100 pages later, I was spellbound, relishing every word … every carefully crafted line. By the last page, I declared it a masterpiece to Andy. One of those books which was so good it made me want to give up writing there and then. I can’t remember reading another book where every single word existed for a reason. There’s no elaborate plot as such, just a tale of medieval family life beautifully and evocatively recounted.
And yet, for all the critical acclaims, it earns only 64% 5-star reviews on Amazon.
Reviews of Hamnet
Not only are many reviewers mean with their stars, there is also vitriol in their scathing words.
“I am embarrassed for the author.”
I’m embarrassed the author of that shared such a nonsensical view in public. They didn’t like the book, it’s not their thing. I get that. But why write something so bitchy?
“One of the worst books I’ve ever read!”
I’d love to see this person’s library; it must display a richness of outstanding works. Pure balderdash.
“I struggle to understand why it got such good reviews.”
This one provides a clue to why some reviewers sound angry. They know this is a highly acclaimed book, which means it has merit and is well written, but they can’t see why. So they feel excluded, like they haven’t been granted access to the club, and that annoys them. This type of review occurs often.
Don’t be silly.
“The writing is ordinary, unvaried, without style.”
Don’t be silly – the sequel.
“I was surprised to be reading a modern novel where the female role was fulfilling every cliche trait of the little woman at home.”
The author of this obviously didn’t realise it was set in the late 16th century.
“It’s like sailing in a rudderless ship through a sea of cold thin treacle. It has no substance, no direction, and Is as pretentious as you can imagine. It is also illiterate in its use of English.”
Ironic that someone who writes “sailing in a rudderless ship through a sea of cold thin treacle” labels Hamnet as being pretentious. Accusing it of illiteracy rips their credibility to shreds.
There are, obviously, reams of glowing reviews of Hamnet. But negative ones, of which there are far too many for a book of this outstanding quality, are more revealing when it comes to analysing what readers like.
Some negative reviewers are fans of historical fiction. You tend to see this with genre groupies. They get uppity whenever a book doesn’t follow the tried and tested blueprint for whichever genre they stick to like limpets. Hamnet treads its own path. They wouldn’t like that.
It’s also written in the present tense, another writing technique which, for some reason beyond my grasp, has some reviewers brandishing virtual pitchforks.
Hamnet is a stunning book, a literary colossus of a novel, and it is wonderfully and refreshingly unique.
In the world of online reviews, that is really its biggest crime.