Readers live in the golden age of historical fiction, something to be thankful for. Novelists have access to more libraries, archives and institutions via digital collections and the power of the Internet. Voices, certain plot points and dialogues are imagined, but the facts never are. They are well-researched and vetted and lead to great author’s notes. One extraordinary and bestselling example of this is Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell. It’s the story of Hamnet Shakespeare, his twin sister Judith; older sister Susanna; and Hamnet’s mother Agnes and how they came to live on Henley Street in Stratford, England. O’Farrell’s strengths as a writer are her insights into complicated, often frayed marriages and the passionate love that parents feel for their children. The character of Agnes stands out. She is a beekeeper, gardener, falconer and healer. She can foretell the future but not necessarily her own.
Contributed by Maureen Millea Smith, a librarian at the Edina Library and Minnesota Book Award-winning novelist.