Monday, March 25, 2013

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent


About the Book
 
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.
 
Based on a true story, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, in which every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?  

 

Review
 

I’ll admit this only once, but I never really understood the Stieg Larson addiction ... I found the books too weighed down with description and the movies far too violent. I happily handed them over the counter to customers at Exclusive Books (back in the days of my Nightstaff stints) and prayed to the heavens that that copy would be the sale that would give me my Christmas bonus. HA! I was young and wrapped in the throes of being a sci-fi fantasy geek; this was before I delved into John Irving and Marian Keyes, who ultimately made me the biggest fiction fiend known to the world of publishing.

I dipped through this treat that held me ironically by the throat – setting me with unease and nervous gulps. Set in 1829 Iceland, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a house maid, is sentenced to death for her part in the murder of Natan Ketilsson (stabbing him and then setting his dead body on fire). In the months leading up to Agnes’s execution, she is sent, to the disgust of the owners, to a small isolated farm in the town she grew up in. She is assigned a young assistant priest to ‘salvage’ her soul in the days leading up to her death. It is through the priest, the owners of the farm and Agnes’s stories the truth of Natan’s murder floats to the surface.
 
 
While not wildly pacey, Burial Rites is told through an exquisitely evocative voice that is sure to keep you ensconced – surprisingly gripping, is the apt two-word description that I would stamp across this book. There is more to this story than the prose, the knotted plot line and cold blooded murder. The story sets itself up in a way that ultimately you know what is going to happen – there aren’t any fleeting escapades of rescue or loud trumpeting exclamations of a lover’s devotion, nor do the good guys win in this one. A heartbreakingly knowable ending – because you have to expect the outcome when it comes to flawed legal systems and women ruled in a male world. 

A story that weaves itself around your body like wild vines as it gnaws at your skin and holds you hostage pinching your skin with a love story gone wrong, a murder that will give you nightmares and a young woman’s story of the truth, love and murder ...

 
About the Author
 
 
Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. She is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Burial Rites is her first novel. 
 
 
 
Find the Author
 
 
 
 

 

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