There are occasional shortcomings. O’Farrell has a habit of using inert phrases such as ‘stops in her tracks’, ‘turns on her heel’, ‘sidles up to her’, ‘driving her to distraction’. But these infelicities only stand out because they are surrounded by so many instances of careful observation and serious noticing. She has a particular talent for harnessing the resonance of the seemingly negligible detail, and the part of the book that attends to the effects of Hamnet’s death offers a picture of bereavement that amounts to one of the most painfully and cathartically humane depictions of grief you are likely to encounter.
In this, as in so much else, Hamnet serves as a bewitchingly sensitive register of the ‘vibrating interior’ of the lives of others, and a work that takes intimate measure of the lineaments of the undiscovered country.