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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Book Review.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Book Review.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Book Review.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Book Review.Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Published by Back Bay Books on April 1st 2014
Genres: Literary fiction, Historical fiction
Pages: 314
Goodreads
five-stars

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.
Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

“To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things.”

Hannah Kent, in Burial Rites. 

 

Every now and then you come across a book which quietly draws you in, as it seduces you with its delicious prose, captivating imagery and moody atmosphere, and then punches you in the guts, breaking you, with a fist full of emotion right at the end.

This is one of those books.

And it was stunning.

You know the story is not going to end well – this is not a spoiler. Burial Rites is the fictionalised account of the final year of Agnes Magnúsdóttir’s life. Agnes, in the early nineteenth century, was the last person to be publicly beheaded in Iceland.

 

We follow Agnes through this time, as she is awaiting her execution living with a family on a remote farm in the northern part of the country. We come to know and understand Agnes as she tries to move forwards, despite knowing what fate awaits her. We learn about her past as she reflects through her inner monologues, and as she shares her stories with the young Assistant Reverend Tóti, who has been charged with her spiritual guidance and comfort.

 

In the meantime Margrét, the farmer’s wife, is desperately working to protect her two young daughters from the murderess, who she has been forced to house.

 

These three main characters are three-dimensional, complex and flawed. They come to life beautifully, and it is a pleasure to witness their development through the story as they each come to terms with Agnes’s condemnation.

 

Kent has a writing style that is almost lyrical; it flows beautifully and her description of the windswept, barren landscape, as we pass through the seasons, is poetic. It is wonderfully atmospheric – the land is cold and bleak, but the prose and the characters make the narrative warm and cosy.

 

The themes of human spirit, resilience, togetherness and becoming one in the face of adversity all shine strongly, and these are the feelings that are still with me since finishing this book.

 

This is a wonderful debut from a young Australian female author. Kent has recently released her second novel, ‘The Good People’ – you can look forward to a review of this one very soon!

 

If you like your books to be fast-paced and action-packed, then Burial Rites may not be for you. Despite this, I would urge everyone to read this book! There certainly is action, murder, mystery and intrigue within these pages; however it is more quietly and subtly compelling. If you are one who appreciates character studies, beautiful prose and an emotional read, then I would highly recommend you pick this one up.

 

If you have read Burial Rites, let me know what you thought in the comments below. I’d love to discuss it with you!

 

If you enjoyed Burial Rites, some other books that I have read and would recommend, include:

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five-stars
Hi! I'm Julia, a lifelong reader, an aspiring writer, medical doctor, and now book blogger, from Queensland, Australia! Go to 'About Read and Live Well' to learn more!

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