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Fate plays a hand in this historical novel
Themes of capital punishment, injustice, and poverty are balanced somewhat by friendship and kindness. The imagery is bold and at times breathtaking. The story is haunting.
The other reviews here have said it all. I want to also recommend the audio version of the book. I listened to a Hatchett Audio recording, 2013, read by Morven Christie. Her beautiful voice brought Agnes and her story to life in a way that few audio book readers have done, in my experience. Her pronunciation of the difficult Icelandic names and words sounded perfect to my ear. Highly recommended.
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 into Agnes Magnusdottir, beheaded by axe in 1829 for her role in the murder of two sleeping men. Eventually Kent produced a novel in which she aimed to show another side to this condemned woman. This novel won the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award, and deservedly so. Kent takes the many facts she has uncovered in her extensive research and, along with fictional likelihoods, weaves them into a fascinating tale of love, cruelty, passion and betrayal. Kent fills out the real and fictional characters, giving them a depth that cannot be gleaned from recorded data. A great wealth of interesting facts about early 19th century Iceland is incorporated into the story, giving it a wonderful authenticity. With sparkling prose, Kent evokes both the feel of northern Iceland and emotions of her characters. Gems like “I staggered in the light of the world and took deep gulps of fresh sea air. It was late in the day: the wet mouth of the afternoon was full on my face. My soul blossomed in that brief moment….” and “I had no friends. I didn’t understand the landscape. Only the outlying tongues of rock scarred the perfect kiss of sea and sky – there was no one and nothing else. There was nowhere else to go.” abound. Kent’s mentor for this masterpiece was, very appropriately, Geraldine Brooks: this genre is right up her alley. This is a powerful and moving first novel, and readers will eagerly await Hannah Kent’s next work.
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 punishment sentence.
The story begins as Agnes is going North to live with the Jonsson family while she awaits her execution. Told simply and straight forward, Kent tells the story of a who woman tries to move away from her poverty and harsh life only to end up in even worse circumstances. There are no surprises in this book, it is beautifully written.
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 punishment in Iceland in 1830. This narrative follows the last months of her life and is hauntingly and movingly told.
The district is hard put to harbor a criminal awaiting death and so Agnes is put in the care of a good Christian farm family. Her only provision is that of a young priest who job is to reconcile her to her fate and her God. He does, however, do more as it is to him that she tells her story. This is a quiet, book, a slow book, but a poignant one as we learn of Agnes's life.
This book and the way it was written made it seem as if the events were happening now and Agnes was currently in the news, or someone I knew.This story affected me the way it did because it seemed so very real. But do not expect alot of action, you won't get it and do not expect a fast paced novel, this is not that wither. It is a slow unraveling of a woman's life that leads to death. I look forward to what this author will write next and admire the amount of research she put into this book to make it as historically accurate as possible.