Six Degrees of Separation: From Hamnet to Macbeth

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month’s chain begins with Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, the winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Set mainly in Stratford-on-Avon, it is historical fiction inspired by Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son. The central theme, though is the grief – the overwhelming and all consuming grief, that the whole family and in particular, Agnes, Hamnet’s mother suffered when he died at the age of eleven in 1596. It’s not my favourite book by O’Farrell but I did find it fascinating.

The first five books that form the links in my chain are shown in the photo below:

The first link:

Hilary Mantel’s third book in her Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, which was also on the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020. I was very keen to read this book when it was first published in February, and began reading it, but for a variety of reasons I still haven’t finished it. It’s the final book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, tracing Thomas Cromwell‘s final years as he fell from power.

The second link:

A biography of Thomas Cromwell and a another book I haven’t read – Thomas Cromwell: the Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Faithful Servant by Tracy Borman. I’d like to read this and The Mirror and the Light this year, but that could easily mean another year could slip by leaving them still on the TBR piles.

The third link:

Thinking about historical figures in fiction and also books I haven’t read yet but have owned for a while (years), the next book in my chain is another of my TBRs . It is Now is the Time by Melvyn Bragg, a novel about the Peasants’ Revolt that took place during just a few weeks in May and June of 1381. The boy king Richard II was faced with a revolt led by former soldier Wat Tyler and John Ball, a preacher.

The fourth link:

is to another book by Melvyn Bragg and also with the word ‘time‘ in the title – In Our Time: a Companion to the Radio 4 series. I have read this book, which contains transcripts of 26 programmes, a selection from hundreds of programmes broadcast over eleven years, including one about the Peasant’s Revolt, and also one on witchcraft.

The fifth link:

Another book featuring witchcraft is Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert. It’s a modern day gothic epic, mixing computer technology with witchcraft, alchemy and the power of the human mind, in the search for enlightenment.

The final link completes the chain making it into a circle by returning to the opening book – a reworking of one of Shakespeare’s plays:

It is Macbeth by Jo Nesbo, a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Witches in different forms appear in both the book and the play. Inspector Macbeth, an ex-drug addict is the head of the SWAT team, ruled by his passions, violent and paranoid. He is manipulated by Hecate, Shakespeare’s chief witch, here one of the drug lords, a man with a friendly smile and cold eyes.

The links in my chain are the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Thomas Cromwell, TBRs, books with the word ‘time’ in the title and witchcraft/witches.

Next month (February 6, 2021), we’ll start with Anne Tyler’s latest novel, Redhead By the Side of the Road.

33 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Hamnet to Macbeth

  1. Nesbo’s book was one of the ones commissioned for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s passing (I think), along with Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler and Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood, both of which are on my chain this month. Nesbo’s book sounds good, if a bit too harsh for my taste.

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  2. Oh, this is really clever, Margaret! a nice link between each two books, and a very creative way to bring it all full circle. And I would like to read Hamnet. I do hear good things about it.

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    1. Thanks, Margot! I should have added that Hamnet is written in the present tense – not sure, but I think that you’re not very keen on that (i’m not) – but lots of people have no difficulty at all with it.


  3. If the central theme is grief, why oh why haven’t I jumped on Hamnet?! (Actually, I read less grief-lit in 2020 than ever before – I think living it with COVID was all too much).

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  4. I also started reading The Mirror and the Light when it was first published and still haven’t finished it! I’m hoping to continue with it soon. My chain also ends with Macbeth this month, but the original play, not a retelling.

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  5. Like other commenters, I love how neatly you got back to Shakespeare. I’m interested that you haven’t finished The mirror and the light. I’d be interested to read it because I loved the first two, but it’s SO long, and fortunately I’m not one who feels obliged to finish series!

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    1. Thank you. I loved the first two Cromwell books too – and the third one is just so long and my hardback copy is so unwieldy and the font is a bit too small for me!

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  6. Hi Margaret! I got Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth for Christmas! No idea when I’m going to get to it, but I can’t wait.

    I still need to read Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall Trilogy. I have the first one on audible for at least two years now.

    Clever chain! Mine was just the good old boring let’s go with the first letters and form chain, link.

    Happy New Year!

    Elza Reads

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  7. Excellent chain, Margaret! I don’t think you need any excuses for not having finished The Mirror and the Light yet – it would take me ages to get through a book like that. I’ve read quite a few of Jo Nesbo’s books, but not Macbeth. Normally I find them great entertainment, although rather farfetched.

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  8. Reading Wolf Hall is a slow, arduous process… but the rewards are worth everything. Honestly, when I was reading the book, I kept highlighting and bookmarking EVERY thing. Mantel is a genius. She’s also received a selection of essays called Mantel Pieces recently, which is next on my reading list.

    I hadn’t heard of Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert before, but you gave it such a powerful description, I just *have* to check it out now. Thanks!

    ~Six Degrees Post @Lexlingua

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  9. An interesting chain , in which only your fifth link doesn’t appeal at all. Too many elements that don’t seem attractive in the middle of a pandemic for me!


  10. I loved the Tracey Borman book – she presents a very different view of Thomas Cromwell to earlier histories.

    I still haven’t read The Mirror and the Light either, despite being excited by the extract that appeared in the Guardian ahead of its publication.


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