Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
read in November 2018
This is a spoiler-free review!
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.
Burial Rites was the final book of my first batch of 5 star predictions I had yet to read. Because those other books didn’t live up to my expectations, I was nervous to pick it up. I was desperate to love this novel; I didn’t want to be disappointed once more.
Though this isn’t one of my favourite books I’ve ever read, this was a beautiful novel! I was going back and forth between four and five stars, and the author’s note made me bump up my rating. While reading, I had forgotten this book is based on true events. Kent wrote a fictional story, but did a tremendous amount of research, which I really appreciate. She definitely succeeded in offering readers a more ambiguous portrayal of who Agnes was.
Agnes was a wonderful protagonist. She’s without a doubt flawed and has made many mistakes, but she is nonetheless loveable. I also liked the parts from Margrét’s point-of-view. The priest Tóti‘s parts were my least favourite, but that’s not surprising considering I prefer reading from women’s point-of-views, anyway.
I adored the writing. Despite it’s slower pace, Burial Rites was a page-turner. It’s also a great book to learn more about Iceland. Kent transported me to Iceland circa 1829; this is such an atmospheric read.
Because of this, there are some passages we would considering problematic today, but were normal for that time period (e.g. the sexism). Additionally, much of this story takes place on farms, so there are scenes were animals are killed, meat is described, etc.
content and trigger warnings for Christianity, binary language (“his or her”), death, murder, arson, death penalty, physical abuse, cissexist language (“I have stopped bleeding. I am no longer a woman”), ableism, sexism, mentions of masturbation, rough sex (bruises, M/F), epilepsy, death in childbirth, rape, animal slaughter, descriptions of meat, hunting, animal cruelty
Burial Rites is a hauntingly beautiful historical fiction novel, based on true events. I loved how Kent incorporated so much history while showing us that Agnes is more than the crime she’s accused of committing. I’m definitely interested in reading more of this author’s work!
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