Excerpt from Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Burial Rites

By Hannah Kent

Burial Rites
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2013,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2014,
    352 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Suzanne Reeder

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Print Excerpt

"In good time, Margrét love."

"In good time I'll be dead."

The words came out more bitterly than she intended. Jón didn't reply, only murmured to their horse to urge it onwards, and Margrét frowned at the back of his riding hat, willing him to turn around. When he kept plodding onwards, she took a deep breath and again peered towards Kornsá.

It was late afternoon and the light was fading across the hayfields, eased out of the sky by low clouds gathering in the east. Patches of old snow upon the mountain ridge looked by turns dull and gray, and then, as the clouds shifted, a startling white. Summer birds darted across the hayfields to catch the insects that quavered above them and the querulous bleats of sheep could be heard, as young boys drove them down the valley towards the farmsteads.

At Kornsá, Lauga and Steina stepped out of the croft to collect water from the mountain stream, Lauga rubbing her eyes in the sunlight and Steina absently swinging her bucket against her side in time with her step. They were not speaking.

The two sisters had worked the past few days in complete silence, only addressing one another to request the spade, or to ask which barrel of salted cod ought to be opened first. The silence, which began after a row following the District Commissioner's visit, had been streaked with anger and anxiety. The effort of speaking as little to each other as possible had exhausted them both. Lauga, frustrated by her elder sister's stubbornness and awkwardness, could not stop thinking of what her parents would say about Blöndal's visit. Steina's ungracious reaction to the news delivered by Blöndal could affect their social standing. Björn Blöndal was a powerful man, and would not like to be challenged by a stripling of a girl. Didn't Steina know how much their family relied on Blöndal? How they would only be doing their duty?

Steina was trying to avoid thinking about the murderess at all. The crime itself made her feel sick, and remembering the callous manner in which the Commissioner had forced the criminal upon them made her throat seize up with fury. Lauga was the youngest, she should not be the one telling her what she should and should not do. How was she to know the ins and outs of social niceties one was obliged to perform for fat men in red jackets? No. It was better to not think of it at all.

Steina let the weight of her bucket pull her shoulder down and gave a great yawn. Beside her, Lauga couldn't help but yawn too, and for a brief moment they caught each other's eye and an understanding of shared fatigue passed between them, until Lauga's curt reminder to cover her mouth made Steina glower and glare at the ground.

The gentle beams of afternoon light were warm on their faces as they moved towards the stream. There was no wind, and the valley was so still that the two women began to walk more slowly to keep with the pause in the air. They were nearing the rocky outcrop surrounding the brook when Lauga, twisting around to pull her skirt off a thorn bush, noticed a horse in the distance.

"Oh!" she gasped.

Steina turned. "What is it now?"

Lauga nodded in the direction of the horse. "It's Mamma and Pabbi," she said breathlessly. "They've returned." She squinted through the haze of sunlight across the fields. "Yes, it's them," she said, as if to herself. Suddenly agitated, Lauga pushed her bucket at Steina and motioned for her to continue walking towards the stream. "Fill these. You can manage both, can't you? It's better if I…I'll go. To light the fire." She shoved Steina on the shoulder, harder than she intended, then turned on her heel.

The brambles along the path caught at Lauga's stockings as she rushed back to the croft, overcome with relief. Now Pabbi could deal with the District Commissioner and Agnes Magnúsdóttir.

Excerpted from Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Copyright © 2013 by Hannah Kent. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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