Women's Prize for Fiction: Maggie O'Farrell wins for Hamnet, about Shakespeare's son

The Northern Irish writer beat Hilary Mantel, Bernardine Evaristo and three other authors to the £30,000 prize.The Northern Irish writer beat Hilary Mantel, Bernardine Evaristo and three other authors to the £30,000 prize.

Hamnet is a fictionalised account of the life of the Bard's son, who died in 1596 when he was just 11.

Chair of judges Martha Lane Fox praised the book for expressing "something profound about the human experience".

She said: "The euphoria of being in the same room for the final judging meeting was quickly eclipsed by the excitement we all feel about this exceptional winner."

O'Farrell is the 25th recipient of the prize, which was first presented as the Orange Prize for Fiction in 1996. Previous winners include Eimear McBride, Ali Smith, Zadie Smith and Andrea Levy.

It must have been a particularly tough call spurning the Booker winners Hilary Mantel and Bernardine Evaristo. But Maggie O'Farrell is a worthy winner.

Hamnet is a beautifully written and intensely moving novel about grief and loss. But don't let that put you off.

It is also a richly drawn and immersive portrait of life in 16th Century England, from the smells of bread rolls baking in a hot kitchen to the sight of bees teeming on a honeycomb.

It is clever too. Shakespeare is never named. This is a book about a woman and her three children - and their lives are vividly imagined.

And it is timely. Plague killed Hamnet in 1596 and there is a gripping chapter exploring how the disease reaches Stratford via a flea on a monkey in Alexandria and a glassmaker in Venice.

Trade and travel are to blame and parallels with the current pandemic are unavoidable.

Evaristo was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction for Girl, Woman, Other,

with Margaret Atwood's The Testaments.

Read the full story at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-54093010

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