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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Title: Burial Rites: A Novel
Author: Hannah Kent
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 322
How I Read It: ARC received from the publisher - The views expressed in my review are mine alone and I have received no compensation for these opinions.
My Rating: 3.5 Crowns

Synopsis: Charged with the brutal murder of two men, Agnes Magnusdottir has been removed to her homeland's farthest reaches, to an isolated farm in northern Iceland, to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family on the farm avoids Agnes. Her arrival threatens the peaceful rhythm of their way of life, while her stoic approach to the daily chores is an unsettling contrast to the passion that, rumor has it, drove her to kill - disturbing proof for them of the dangers that can lurk beneath a placid surface.

Only Toti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. As the winter months pass and Agnes's death looms closer, the farmer's wife and his daughters learn there is another side to the sensational tale they've heard, but will their new knowledge be enough to save her?

Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the saga of this young woman, the last to be publicly beheaded in Iceland, in the early nineteenth century. Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the heartbreaking question: How can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others? Inspired by true events, this is an astonishing and exhilarating read that gives voice to a fierce and daring heroine and heralds the arrival of a great new talent.

* Synopsis taken from the book jacket

My Review: This was one of those novels that was a tough one to get in to, in some ways, because we know the eventual outcome from the start. Knowing that Agnes is doomed made it more heart-wrenching for me to read her story as she reveals it to Reverend Toti, from her earliest days through the unfortunate murder of Natan Kettilson. She's the sort of woman who doesn't seem able to catch a break, being shuffled from one sad situation to another.

The novel presents a somewhat sympathetic look at Agnes and the situation she finds herself in. There's no way to know what really happened with her, whether she really participated in the murder or if she was just a bystander, so this alternate perspective made it an interesting story. That being said, it did take awhile for me to really become interested in it, but the slow pace was really the only complaint I had.

I also found it fascinating that a convicted murderer, one sentenced to death, was sent to live with a random family on a farm in Iceland. The whole scenario makes me very curious about the Icelandic justice system, both past and present, so I may have to read more about it to understand it on a better level. Their concept is very different from the one we use in the U.S., plain and simple.

Knowing basically nothing about Iceland, I enjoyed the look into what life was like there a couple hundred years ago. It seems like a reasonably harsh climate, and the idea of having to walk everywhere in it had never really occurred to me. Reading that made it seem even more difficult for someone like Agnes to rise above the station in life she was born into. When you think about it, that seems a pretty bleak life to live in a lot of ways.

Although a little depressing, this was an interesting story, and I'm glad I read it. I'd encourage everyone to pick it up, being a historical fiction novel from a place we're less familiar with in general. If you're looking to branch out from the typical historical fiction, you should check this one out.

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Mystica said...

Thanks for the review. The strangest part for me was being sent to a random place to await execution. Would have been hard on all parties.

Crystal - Princess of Pop Culture said...

That's definitely the strangest part to me too!