Burial Rites

burialBurial Rites
by Hannah Kent
2014/ 338 pages
rating 7 / hist. fict – (Iceland)

I really enjoy books set in Greenland or Iceland, especially historical fiction, so I thought this book might be interesting. Too bad. The books by Sjon, Michael Crummy, Haldor Laxness, Peter Hoeg, Jane Smiley and others are incredibly better in many ways. The most important to me of those ways is that in Burial Rites there seems to be very little sense of being in historic Iceland – it’s just a story based on an actual event which took place in Iceland circa 1828 with some language thrown in (actually, though, what’s wrong with that?- lol)

Kent has taken the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a “pauper” and a servant girl who was executed for the murder of her master and retold it for 21st century readers. With far more emphasis on the the human side and mental stability of Agnes than on the place or the era, Kent has woven her own tale of love and murder.

Agnes is placed with a local family until her execution and the dynamics of those relationships are touched on. A nice element in the novel is the relationship Agnes develops with the young assistant priest, Toti who is assigned to visit with her in her final weeks. As he tries to prepare her for death, Toti encourages Agnes to tell her story. The narrative is structured around several points of view including that of Agnes as 1st person.

But there is only the one plot line so I suppose it’s a murder myster – Did she or didn’t she? and vitally important here, why? Of course another issue is to what extent is Agnes reliable. … yawn

Overall I generally enjoyed the book but the last third was a fair page-turner.  🙂

2 Responses to Burial Rites

  1. Oh I liked it more than you did Bekah. Kent herself calls it “speculative biography” not murder mystery. I would have called it historical fiction. While exactly what happened on the night is unclear, I think she was involved in the murder. The interesting thing is why the law was SO hard on her. That man, forgotten his name, had it in for her and I see that as a gender issue.

    And I did think she evoked Iceland beautifully — the farm she lives on for those last months, the farm of the man she killed. I thought she captured them well. Not in the depth that we saw in Independent people, but that was a longer book and a different themed one. I thought there were hints of Kent’s writing inexperience but I think in my ratings I gave it 8.

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  2. I was probably a bit harsh but after Laxness and Crummey and Smiley and Sjon, Kent felt a bit flat – just my o probably – and your 8 and my 7 aren’t all that far apart. 🙂

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