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?
Through a varied narrative that includes multiple perspectives, letters and haunting poems, Kent’s novel unravels with superb pacing and suspense, eventually revealing the truth of what happened the winter night the murders occurred. Chapters employing Agnes’s direct voice are especially powerful when she contemplates death. Kent also keenly captures the uniqueness of her novel’s setting: Iceland’s beauty and isolation, its sense of solitude—and despair. (Reviewed by Suzanne Reeder).
Kent smoothly incorporates her impressive research ... while giving life to these historical figures and suspense to their tales.
Starred Review. With language flickering, sparkling and flashing like the northern lights...A magical exercise in artful literary fiction.
Starred Review. Haunting reading from a bright new talent.
Starred Review. In the company of works by Hilary Mantel, Susan Vreeland, and Rose Tremain, this compulsively readable novel entertains while illuminating a significant but little-known true story. Highly recommended.
Geraldine Brooks, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Here is an original new voice, with a deep and lovely grasp of language and story. Hannah Kent's first novel, Burial Rites, is an accomplished gem, its prose as crisp and sparkling as its northern setting.
Anne Berry, author of The Hungry Ghosts
A compelling read, heart-breaking and uplifting in equal measure.
Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat
Hannah Kent's gorgeous and haunting Burial Rites will touch your heart.
Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles
So gripping I wanted to rush through the pages, but so beautifully written I wanted to linger over every sentence. Hannah Kent's debut novel is outstanding.
Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me
Hannah Kent's Burial Rites shows how a seemingly simple tale - a murder, a family, a remote landscape - can prove mythic in scale in the right hands. Spell-binding and moving, it's the kind of novel that gets under your skin, moves your blood, your heart. A bravura debut.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Cloggie Downunder a powerful and moving first novel Burial Rites is the first novel by Australian author, Hannah Kent. In 2003, during an exchange year in Iceland, Hannah Kent became interested with events leading up to the last execution to occur in that country. Thus began ten years of research... Read More
Rated of 5
by Diane P Burial Rites Burial Rites based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, In 1829, she was convicted along with two others, of murdering two men and setting a house a fire to cover their crimes. Agnes was the last person in Iceland to receive a capital... Read More
Rated of 5
by Diane S. Burial rites It is very hard to describe the atmosphere of this novel. The coldness, the loneliness, the lives hard lived permeate this book, as the story of Agnes is told. Well researched accounting of the last woman beheaded and the last case of capitol... Read More
The Republic of Iceland, the setting for Hannah Kent's debut novel Burial Rites, has a deep and intriguing history.
Located west of Scandinavia and just south of the Arctic Circle, the first confirmed settlement of Iceland was in the 9th and 10th centuries by Norsemen from Scandinavia and Scotland. Though questions remain about the actual events leading up to the settlement, Icelandic tradition suggests Norsemen were fleeing the tyranny of the Norwegian King Harald I Haarfagri. According to early Icelandic records, Celts from the British Isles were among the early emigrants, having been taken as slaves and wives by the Norsemen.
In 930 a legislative assembly known as the Althing was established (literally all-thing, general assembly). It is one of the oldest legislative assemblies in the world.
The Reykjavik police are called on an icy January day to a garden where a body has been found: a young, dark-skinned boy is frozen to the ground in a pool of his own blood. Erlendur and his team embark on their investigation and soon unearth tensions simmering beneath the surface of Icelands outwardly liberal, multicultural society.
In the midst of the American Civil War, a southern plantation owner's wife is arrested by her husband and declared insane for interfering with his slaves. She is sent to an island mental asylum to come to terms with her wrongdoing, but instead finds love and escape with a war-haunted Confederate soldier.
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