author : Hannah Kent
pages : [hardcover] 322
memorable quote : To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things.
favorite characters : agnes & margret
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?
I was very fascinated by the idea for this novel and nearly as soon as I began it I couldn’t put it down. Historical fiction for me can either be a hit or a miss. Burial Rites for me was a fantastically enjoyable read, set in an unfamiliar setting with struggling characters I couldn’t help but feel for. The book really explored how the thoughts and stories of others can affect how one’s life turns out and throughout the entire novel the reader is shown several perspectives. The characters speculate as to what could have truly happened the night of the murders and you’re left to wonder and read on to see if Agnes will take the opportunity to tell her side of the story or die with the truth still unspoken.
Agnes was a very complicated woman and I absolutely loved that. Flawed characters abound in this novel, making it more realistic so that I really felt like I was reading a historical account of what had happened. Adding to the effect were the letters and other documents posted at the beginning of every chapter. The author explains that these are translations from original sources. That’s noted at the end of the book, which makes me want to read through everything again so I can really put myself in the mindset of the times.
I can’t imagine what it would be like, being sentenced to death. Although at a few points in the novel Agnes seems very passive and I grew frustrated with her, I think this only added to the story. She chooses to deal with or ignore her problems as they come and we’re right there alongside her, viewing the days of a convicted murderer.
If you’re looking for a fascinating historical read based on actual events I highly recommend this novel. It’s very captivating and I flew through the pages, though the content was weighty enough that it will stick with me for a while. This is definitely a book that I’ll need to read again.