Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.
Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.
Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard.
Review: Burial Rites is based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. In the early 1800s, Agnes is convicted of stabbing her employer to death and sent to a remote farm until the government can arrange her beheading. While she is waiting for her execution, she tells her life story to a priest and the family who owns the farm.
The best word that I can use to describe this book is “visceral.” The novel is description-heavy, and some of the description is intense. If you’re going to read this, be prepared for a lot of talk about bodily functions and fluids. This book doesn’t hide anything from the reader. Even the gross stuff is in there.
To counteract the poop-and-pee descriptions, there are beautiful descriptions of the Icelandic landscape and culture. I’ve never been to Iceland, but I feel like I know so much about it after reading this book. The writing is brilliant. The author does an amazing job of capturing the rugged remoteness of the country. It’s easy to get caught up in this story and not want to put it down. I’m still thinking about it, even though I finished the book a week ago.
Other than the description, the best part of this novel is the suspense. It’s very subtle. You know at the beginning of the book that Agnes will be executed eventually, and you spend the entire book waiting for it to happen. Agnes doesn’t know when she will be killed, so the reader and the character are both dreading the moment when someone shows up at the door to lead Agnes to her death.
I think the execution scene is handled perfectly. It’s intense and terrifying without being melodramatic.
I only have two minor rants about this book. Rant 1: I hate it when a line of dialogue starts with the phrase “As you know.” If the other characters already know, WHY ARE YOU TELLING THEM? It drives me bananas.
Rant 2: There is so much description in this book, but I had trouble picturing the house where Agnes is being kept. This is frustrating because most of the story takes place in and around this house.
Those are my only gripes. I love pretty much everything about this novel. It actually reminds me of Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, so if you like that book, you’ll probably like this one.