Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell has been named Waterstones' Book of the Year 2020, claiming victory over the shortlist by "an overwhelming majority".
The book, already the winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020, and the Reader's Choice winner at this year's BAMB Awards, shines a light on the short life of Shakespeare’s son and is published by Tinder Press. It was selected by Waterstones' booksellers as the title they have most enjoyed recommending to customers over the course of the year, winning by a substantial margin according to the retailer.
"I’m over the moon that Hamnet has been chosen as Waterstones’ Book of the Year," said O'Farrell. "It is one of my favourite awards and I make a point of reading the winning book each year. It’s a huge honour to be added to this list, especially as I know that the award is nominated by those most discerning of readers: booksellers. Without their expert guidance and knowledge, my reading shelves would be much the poorer. This year has been a strange and challenging year for all of us: what better time to listen to the narratives of others and lose ourselves in a book?"
Waterstones praised Hamnet's celebration of how family, community, nature and art can offer hope through the darkest of times, calling this "an especially prescient message for this turbulent year". Callie Limb of Waterstones Burton on Trent described it "heart-wrenching, beautiful and deft in phrase" and Alex McQueen of Waterstones Islington said Hamnet was "simply the best book I've read this year. Timely, poetic and with an almost filmic ability to morph between perspective and scene". Will Rycroft, of Waterstones E-commerce, added that the book is "a brilliant novel of character, humanity and love at exactly the time when we need all of those things".
Bea Carvalho, Waterstones’ Fiction Buyer, said Hamnet was "the clear standout title" for its booksellers, further praising it as "a masterwork".
"We have been hugely impressed by the abundance of brilliant books published this year and, for our booksellers, Hamnet is the clear standout title: a work of immense style and emotional heft which will surely go on to be a future classic," she said. "Maggie O’Farrell’s novel is a literary treat which offers texture to the history of our most famous playwright, a portrait of parenthood’s dazzling highs and devastating lows, and a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit: this wonderful novel truly has something for readers of all tastes. It is a masterwork by an author at the height of her power, and we’re delighted to share it with many more of our customers as our Book of the Year."
Other books that had been shortlisted were Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half; Bolu Babalola's Love in Colour; Craig Brown's One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time; Naoise Dolan's Exciting Times; Gavin Francis' Island Dreams; Michiko Kakutani's Ex Libris; Dara McAnulty's Diary of a Young Naturalist; David Olusoga's Black and British: A Short, Essential History; Katherine Rundell's The Book of Hopes; Philippe Sands' The Ratline; and Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright! An Animal Poem for Every Day of the Year from Britta Teckentrup and Fiona Waters.
Waterstones will now be offering an exclusive edition of Hamnet, featuring a red cloth-effect, gold-foiled jacket, a red ribbon marker and top and tail bands, bespoke endpapers and exclusive material written by the author. As Book of the Year, it will receive the "full and committed backing" of Waterstones shops and booksellers across the UK, as well as support online and through its loyalty card programme, Waterstones Plus, which reaches almost a million readers.
Last year’s winner was The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (Ebury), and according to Waterstones it benefited by seeing a sales boost of almost 400% after the announcement, going on to become Waterstones’ bestselling Book of the Year to date.