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Entertainment Maggie O'Farrell wrote a brilliant plague novel. She's starting to think about it differently

00:55  23 july  2020
00:55  23 july  2020 Source:   ew.com

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When the novelist Maggie O ’ Farrell was 16, she was invited to a fancy-dress party Over the years, she repeatedly tried to write that novel and almost gave up. Yet it was a story that Of one thing I’m certain: anyone who reads it will find it impossible to see Hamlet again without thinking about the boy

O ' Farrell has a melodic relationship to language. There is a poetic cadence to her writing and a lushness in her descriptions of the natural world The Boston Globe says, HAMNET is “magnificent and searing… so gorgeously written that it transports you from our own plague time right into another

It feels like every other book these days holds some inadvertent resonance for this anxious, unprecedented global moment in time. Certainly, summer has yielded countless novels of quarantine and viral disease, of national unity and disruption. But Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet, which published Stateside on Tuesday after landing in the U.K. just as the COVID-19 pandemic first started hitting Europe hard, feels especially prescient for the deeper emotional experience it offers, beyond its premise of a writer (okay, Shakespeare) and his eccentric wife, who've lost their son to the Black Death and wade through their pain and anxiety while the plague ravages the world around them.

The bubonic plague has been found at a hospital in China's Inner Mongolia region

  The bubonic plague has been found at a hospital in China's Inner Mongolia region Authorities in the autonomous region of northern China have issued a health warning after a local farmer contracted the bubonic plague. Health officials in a Chinese region of Inner Mongolia have banned the hunting or eating of wild animals which are thought to carry the highly infectious disease.The disease is now easily treatable with antibiotics but there are still occasional outbreaks, such as one in Madagascar in 2017.Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Aoife is plagued by her own deficiencies: she clearly has undiagnosed dyslexia and is functionally illiterate. Which means she probably should not have All the hallmarks of an O ' Farrell novel are here: a family with secrets in its past and words left unsaid years ago, relatives long since forgotten, a

O ’ Farrell said her daughter had been diagnosed when she was just nine months old with “a quite severe medical condition, including severe eczema and She admitted she had felt nervous about publishing a memoir. “One of the reasons I never thought I would write one is that memoirs can be a

Maggie O'Farrell holding a sign posing for the camera: Award-winning author Maggie O'Farrell returns with 'Hamnet,' the story of Shakespeare's son, which holds startling resonance to today. © Murdo MacLeod; Knopf Award-winning author Maggie O'Farrell returns with 'Hamnet,' the story of Shakespeare's son, which holds startling resonance to today.

The book, which O'Farrell (I Am I Am I Am) researched exhaustively and attempted to closely mirror the experience of Shakespeare and his wife Agnes' lives in this period, tells a hauntingly familiar story of isolation and fear amid a vicious pandemic. But its luminous portrait of marriage and grief, as well as the roots of artistic inspiration (the book's title offers an immediate clue), amid these conditions offer an added power, an emotionally explosive refraction of our deeper collective, contemporary struggles.

Indeed, even for O'Farrell, she finds herself going back to Hamnet now and revisiting her story with fresh eyes — with what the reality of COVID-19 has taught her, firsthand, about living through that kind of terror. EW caught up with the author on that and more in a wide-ranging conversation.

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Somehow, she becomes one of the last people in Manhattan left alive, before fleeing into the wilderness in a yellow New York City taxi. Before sexy, brooding Mr Rochester, before she ever heard anything about anyone in an attic, Jane Eyre survived an epidemic at a girls’ boarding school.

Maggie O ' Farrell ' s debut novel , After You'd Gone, won the Betty Trask award. Her follow-up, My Lover' s Lover A brilliant and horrifying account of a suffocating marriage. 3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë A passionately independent I think this short story, the final in his collection Dubliners, is the

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This came out a while ago in the U.K. So you're now in your second round of virtual press, right?

MAGGIE O'FARRELL: Yeah. It was a strange time because it came out in the U.K. right at the beginning of lockdown, in the first week. I was looking back at my diary and about around the beginning of March, it seemed like it was all going to go ahead, and I was going to go on a big book tour. And gradually throughout the month, it became less and less likely until, This is not going to happen. [Laughs] I do remember picking up my dress I was going to wear, thinking, "Oh, fantastic. I'm going to be wearing this in two weeks." And then, of course, I wasn't. Yeah, it has been very opposite. When I first was talking about it to press in the U.K., it was all very new. We've had this weird experience of watching it come closer and closer from China. I think as soon as it reached Italy, we knew that it was only a matter of time until it reached the U.K. and Ireland. So yeah, it's very strange. It's all very strange, isn't it?

China reports suspected case of bubonic plague in Inner Mongolia

  China reports suspected case of bubonic plague in Inner Mongolia Health officials in China have reported a case of bubonic plague in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.The case triggered a level-three alert Sunday in the Bayannur district. Health officials released a statement ordering residents not to hunt wild animals, such as rodents like marmots, and to report anyone with fever or showing other possible signs of infection.

Her four previous novels have each been shaped by the psychological unravelling of characters At first, she cannot remember the birth but as she regains her strength, the memories start to And yet the pace of the book is never achieved at the cost of its poetry: O ' Farrell writes with acute perception

As she relates her stories in a nonlinear fashion, glimpses of O ' Farrell ' s biography snap into place like puzzle I would follow Maggie Farrell anywhere, even to the edge of death seventeen times.” This is a mesmerising read.” —Sunday Times “ O ’ Farrell has a compelling and arresting writing style that

Indeed. I imagine that the initial talks around the book were pretty overwhelmed by its resonance to everything that's going on.

It was very odd because, obviously, when I wrote the chapter around the middle of the book where I traced the journey of the Black Death from a monkey and Alexander. It comes out on a boat. So when I wrote those, it was a kind of an intellectual exercise. It was all about research. I remember looking up lots of graphics and lots of maps, and I had these kinds of things all over my study, and this sort of path of the plague and how it came from China and Asia, and it swept through Europe. But it seemed so distant. It was just about imagination. I had to try and imagine what it would be like to sit in a country and know there was this terrifying disease sweeping towards you. I think we've all learned a huge amount about ourselves, and about each other, and about our vulnerabilities. We'll never be able to go back to that time before this pandemic where we thought we were invulnerable. We thought we were invincible. Now when we come through this, which we will, we're all going to have a sense of ourselves as much more fragile than we were before.

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Personally, I think she ' s rightfully strong but not overpowered. Considering the nature of her 'powers' it 's not completely The heroine isn't being avoided like a plague by our cute spider MC, so we get some The novel is well written . The slow pace of the story was felt like it made to test your patience.

Flashcards. Learn. Write . Differently Don't you think from the way you did? Have felt stupid when it dawned. With a view to starting . She gave in her notice, planning to start her new job in January. Interests I think it would be in the long run to negotiate a lower price. Simon has designs on taking over.

Over the past few months, it has been incumbent upon journalists like myself to be looking at books that have parallels to this moment. And a lot of them are these sort of pandemic thrillers that hit a particular nerve.

Crisis thrillers, yeah.

And there's of course nothing wrong with that! But this one it's a story of a marriage and a story of grief, and in a way that really hit me, because it hits us really where we all are, right? We're all in our own personal lives and these very small boxes, with this thing happening outside, or perhaps very close to home.

Since I published it in the U.K., I've been thinking a lot more about how it must felt been Elizabethan. Obviously, it isn't actually known what the real Hamnet Shakespeare died of. There's no cause of death recorded for him, just his burial. But there was no shortage of anything that could kill you, unfortunately, in Elizabethan times. I mean, there are any number of very dangerous diseases. You could even have just cut your finger and then you could have died of sepsis a couple of days later.

Hamnet did die in high summer, and he did die in a plague year. And something that's always intrigued me, the fact that Shakespeare never, ever mentions about what we now think of as the Black Death. And we call the Plague with a capital P. He never mentions it in any of his plays or any of his poetry, which is extraordinary. I've been thinking a lot more since [writing], the perspective of going through the COVID lockdown. This COVID crisis has [made me] think how terrified Elizabethans must've been all the time.

Teenage boy dies of plague in Mongolia

  Teenage boy dies of plague in Mongolia A 15-year-old boy has died from the bubonic plague in Mongolia, health authorities said Tuesday, one of a handful of cases that recently emerged in the country and neighbouring China. At least one person dies of the plague every year in Mongolia despite government campaigns to discourage people from eating marmot or approaching the animal. But many in rural areas grow up learning to hunt and eat the large ground quirrel, and some believe eating its innards is good for health.An ethnic Kazakh couple died of the plague last year after eating raw marmot kidney.

In a way you couldn't have thought before, right?

Right. The plague was probably the biggest and most dangerous contagion there was. But it must've been absolutely ever-present in the footprints of their mind all the time. If you think of the original Globe [Theatre], which had a capacity of about 3,000 people, it's no wonder that the first thing the civic authorities in London were able to [do] was shut down all the playhouses as soon as there was a single outbreak of plague in the city. They were these hugely viral hotspots, [huge] numbers of people gathering in the middle of the day in high summer. It's no wonder the plague would have spread fast.

Our word for quarantine comes from that time, from Venice. They knew how to deal with the pandemic. What they didn't know was how to cure it. They didn't know how to treat it. I feel myself much closer to them in a sense. I think we all do in a way to those populations who put up so much, and who suffered so greatly.

So how does this relate to you telling Hamnet's story, in a sense? Obviously you were drawn to him before all this.

One of the things that spurred me on to writing the novel was because I always felt that Hamnet, the boy, was much too overlooked. He was much too underplayed. He wasn't given a voice, enough of importance. He's lucky if he gets maybe two minutes [in a biography]. They mention he was born and then they mention he dies. And often, his death is wrapped up in this statistical analysis of child mortality in the 16th century. It was almost as if the implication is it didn't really matter that much because everyone lost children or expected to lose children. It's such an outrageous thing to think. He was 11. How could they not have grieved him?

In Mongolia, a teenager dies of bubonic plague after eating a groundhog

 In Mongolia, a teenager dies of bubonic plague after eating a groundhog © Illustration Ouest-France The teenager had eaten a groundhog. A 15-year-old boy died of bubonic plague in Mongolia after hunting a groundhog which he then ate. A teenager died of bubonic plague in Mongolia after hunting and eating a groundhog, announced Tuesday July 14, the health authorities of this country which recently registered a series of cases of this disease , all as the Neighboring China .

In that sense, I thought a lot of your last book, I Am I Am I Am, which was a memoir, while reading this. Death was obviously so central there. Did the way you thought about death and the way you came to it in that book inform the way you approach this book? I'm just curious about that evolution.

It's funny, I think all books are kind of related to their predecessors. I wanted to write Hamnet for so long. I made several attempts and then I ended up swerving away. I think I've written three books now instead of writing it. [Laughs] Honestly, I was thinking about it. I think I've always felt that, as it says in the Bible, in the midst of life we are in death. It is something that we're all aware of. I mean, either that or we deliberately avoid thinking about it. And I think in a sense I needed to write my memoir before I wrote this. Memoir was the key turning in the lock. I said, "I'm sure." That kind of idea you come close to death. And I suppose that's what I was analyzing or thinking about in my memoir, what it means to come close to death. What does it mean to have avoided it, or to step out of that loophole? Then, of course, in the novel I actually face it and say, "This is what happens. You lose someone. This is how we deal with grief. This is the pain you deal with. And this is where…" Hamnet is about where art comes from, why we need it, why we need to write it, why we need to produce it, and why we need to watch it. It's where it comes from. That's why we do it.

Going from present-day to Elizabethan times: What about that period appealed to you in terms of that particular argument?

I do think fear of loss is a huge part of love, actually. If you love someone, it's not hard for the imagination to picture what your life would be like without them. And I think it makes up quite a lot of our feelings for other people. There are people for whom it would be unbearable for us to think about our lives without them, how we would carry on without them. Particularly a parent's love for children because it goes against the natural order of things. It's every parent's absolute, most visceral fear, that you may have to bury your child. I don't know. It's a bit like turning a sock inside-out on itself. It's the other side of love, in a way?

England captain Farrell extends stay at relegated Saracens

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Certainly. To touch on something you'd mentioned earlier, about viewing the Elizabethan era in a different way post-COVID: Are you looking at your novel in a different way now too? Or maybe this moment?

A friend of mine who's a doctor said to me recently, "Imagine what it would be like for the world if COVID was killing children, that kind of population." I mean, obviously it doesn't just kill people over in the latest seasons of life. I do realize it that it does attack other people and children. But she said, "Imagine if the statistics were inverted, what it would be like?" It's a really horrific moment where I've thought, "Dear God, imagine if all of us were terrified. We were all carrying on in our houses thinking we were going to lose our children?" And that made me think about the Black Death. The Black Death was totally indiscriminate. It killed everybody, and it could kill a completely healthy, say, young, very healthy, young, strong man in his 20s could be felled and could die within 24 hours of coming down with the first signs of it. Compared to the loss and the terror and the horror of those pandemics, and those illnesses, we are in a more fortunate position that does put it in a historical context.

That's very true.

I think about Mary Shakespeare, Shakespeare's mother, a lot. She had two daughters who died in infancy. Her third child was William. He was 3 months old. There was plague all over the town of Stratford. There was a family, a couple of doors down on Henley Street, and all four of them died of plague. These are people she would have known. They were her neighbors. They lived just down the road. I mean, how terrified must you have been that summer? With the plague ranging through the town and through the countryside, she had this tiny son, her third child. The only one who survived. I mean, thank God he grew up and he lived to tell us many stories. But I don't know. I suppose just thinking about that I've been looking out the window during our lockdown and in the middle of homeschooling. I have it okay.

Related content:

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England captain Farrell extends stay at relegated Saracens .
England captain Owen Farrell has become the latest big-name player to commit his long-term future to Saracens despite the club's relegation to the Championship over salary cap breaches. The England fly-half, 28, was under contract until 2022 but has now agreed a further deal with the club, who will play in the second tier next season after a points deduction for breaking rules governing the salary cap. "Saracens is delighted to announce Owen Farrell has committed his long-term future to the club," the reigning Premiership and European champions said in a statement, without disclosing the length of the deal.

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