Burial Rites by Hannah Kent has sat on my bookshelf for months but i never picked it up until now. I cannot remember how i came to own this book, but i really enjoyed the story and the characters. It is a genre that i never read and was a great step outside of my comfort zone!
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?
Burial Rites is a slow building mystery that focuses on Agnes Magnusdotter, a women charged with the murder of her former master. While it is classified as a Mystery Thriller, it has a very slow pace as we slowly piece together the events that took place on the night Agnes is accused of murdering Natan with accomplices Sigga and Frederik.
This slow pace by no means dampened my enjoyment of this book. I found myself becoming invested in each of the main characters. Agnes starts off as a mystery and an enigma when she arrives to the farm of the family she is places in the custody of. Slowly she opens up and forms friendships and becomes an important part of the family, skilled at craft, cooking and farm work. Through her discussions with Toti, the priest she requested to help her come to terms with her fate, we get glimpses into the hard and eventful life Agnes has lived- the series of decisions that led her to be awaiting her execution. While the book switches POV, the primary focus remains on Agnes, and these different views help to further develop her character and reveal her backstory.
The book moves slowly, and that matches the experience of Agnes. She is told that she is being held and will be executed shortly. However the days turn into weeks, and the weeks into months. She becomes accustomed to her life on the farm, her role as a farmhand and house maid, and her relationship with Marageret, Jon and their two daughters. And we become more and more invested in each of their lives and their stories- that is an important part of a story, becoming invested in the fate of each of the characters.
The inclusion of official documents, letters and poems throughout the book adds a little bit more context and further develops the setting. The book is inspired by the true story of Agnes, and these inclusions adds more dimension to the story Kent is telling.
I really enjoyed this book. The writing is beautiful and slowly builds up over the pages to a bitter ending. The characters grow and we become more invested in their lives. I wanted to keep reading and find out whether Agnes did murder he master, her motives behind the action, or who really did it if she is innocent. While it did take the whole book for the truth to be revealed, it was written in a way where every little piece of information and background behind all of the characters linked together to build a comprehensive and complete story.