Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Title: Burial Rites
Author: Hannah Kent
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 338
Genres: Historical Fiction

Burial Rites
In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.

Agnes is sent to wait out the months leading up to her execution on the farm of district officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed her spiritual guardian, will listen to Agnes’s side of the story. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force everyone to work side by side, the family’s attitude to Agnes starts to change, until one winter night, she begins her whispered confession to them, and they realize that all is not as they had assumed.
"Up in the highlands blizzards howl like the widows of fishermen and the wind blisters the skin off your face. Winter comes like a punch in the dark. The uninhabited places are as cruel as any executioner"

Beautiful, atmospheric and bleak, Agne's story will hook you from the very first page. Set in nineteenth century northern Iceland, the murder of Natan Kentilsson and Pétur Jónsson has shocked the Icelandic community. Agnes Magnúsdóttir along with two teenage accomplices have been sentenced to death by beheading. Not every crime is black and white and slowly Agnes reveals what happened that night.

The writing was one of the best things about this book. The imagery used perfectly reflects the harshness of the landscape which is mainly cold and remote, aptly mirroring the lonely situation Agnes finds herself in. To be honest
Burial Rites is tragic and depressing as Agnes has largely led quite a poor and unfortunate life. Superstition has a major role in the story and Agnes as an older, unmarried woman is immediately condemned as guilty. 

Despite the overall depressing tone of the book, it is counterbalanced by the kindness of strangers, friendship and forgiveness. There is plenty of detail about everyday life working on a farm in northern Iceland where the author's research really shines through. I would recommend to readers that enjoy slow and character driven books.

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