Inspired by a true story, Hannah Kent's Burial Rites was shortlisted for The Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, The Guardian First Book Award and The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards. In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover. Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters.
Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes.
Only Toti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes's spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her.
As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes's story begins to emerge and with it the family's terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed. Based on actual events, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we're told.
In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland's formidable landscape, in which every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?Burial Rites is perfect for fans of Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 384 pages
- Publisher: Pan Macmillan
- Publication Date: 27/02/2014
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9781447233176
- EPUB from £3.99
Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.
Review by PennyAnne
I absolutely loved this book! Written by an Australian woman who, while living in Iceland on a student exchange program, was inspired by the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. The story is fascinating in and of itself but it is the detailed and beautiful descriptive language that really drew me in. I felt like I was standing in the rooms with the characters, feeling the cold, damp air, working beside them as they did their chores - this book is an amazing accomplishment as a first novel. Highly recommended!
Review by piemouth
Wow, what a great, evocative novel.It's 1828 in Iceland. Three servants have been convicted of murdering of their master and another man, and condemned to death. Each has been sent to stay with a farm family to work as a servant until the details of their execution are settled.Agnes Magnusdottir, older and more experienced in the world, is the one the others claim was the ringleader. She's assigned a priest to prepare her for her death.This book is based on a real case. I gather that Agnes is kind of a Lizzie Borden figure in Iceland, in the sense that everybody's familiar with her. Some see her as purely wicked; others see more nuance. This book takes that stance. The author was an exchange student from Australia as a teen who learned about Agnes and got interested in her life. The story takes place over the months that Agnes stays on the farm, getting to know the priest and the farm family, helping with harvest and lambing, gradually telling her story to the priest and to us. It's very evocative of the hell of peasant life with all its hard work and misery. The weather, and ravens, are huge parts of the atmosphere, too. I couldn't put it down. Some mysteries are solved, others are not. Is Agnes a reliable narrator?I had a few language quibbles: one character is named "Natan" and people are always remarking that he might as well have been "Satan". But wouldn't they be speaking Icelandic? There are a couple of other things like this but not a problem.
Review by janeajones
Shortlisted for the 2014 Bailey's Prize (formerly the Orange Prize), <i>Burial Rites</i> is Hannah Kent's first novel. As a historical novel reimagining the murder of a landowner involving his female servant who is confiding her story to a sympathetic young man, it must bear some comparison to Margaret Atwood's <i>Alias Grace</i> to any reader familiar with Atwood's work.However, <i>Burial Rites</i> stands on its own as an accomplished work of fiction with a well developed protagonist, a highly detailed picture of northern Iceland in the early 19th century, and thoroughly researched background material.Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be executed in Iceland on January 12, 1830. She, along with Sigridur Gudmundsdottir and Fridik Sigurdsson, was convicted of murdering Natan Ketilsson and Petur Jonsson and burning down Natan's house to try to conceal the crime. The murder is well known to this day in Iceland, and Agnes is generally characterized in local legend as a scorned and vengeful lover who incited two young people to violence and murder.Kent, who first heard the tale when she was an exchange student in Iceland, was fascinated by the character of Agnes and her isolated existence. An illegitimate child, abandoned by her mother at 6, Agnes was brought up in poverty and servitude. Nevertheless, like nearly all Icelanders in the 19th century, she was literate, and she had a roving intelligence that embraced the lore of the sagas and the starkness of the Icelandic landscape. The novel spans the period of about six months before Agnes's execution when she is being held by a local official's family to await final authorization from the King in Denmark to proceed with the sentence. Within the family she labors as a servant, and Kent explores the evolving relationships within the family. Agnes is assigned a spiritual advisor, Thorvadur Jonsson, to whom she gradually tells her story.So what was Agnes's role in the murder? This is the crux of the novel, and the reader's judgement depends of the interpretation of the reliability of the narrator.All in all, a highly accomplished first novel.
Review by Bernadette877
The facts. In Iceland in 1828, Agnes Magnúsdóttir was convicted of murder. She was executed in 1830. In the meantime, she was lodged on a family farm. So, imagine sharing your isolated home with a convicted killer. Imagine being a woman lodging in the very community that’s sentenced you to death by beheading. Meanwhile people risk freezing to death, dying of infections, not surviving childbirth. Bodies rest in storerooms until the ground thaws enough to permit burial. This novel is spellbinding, because Hannah Kent conveys the particular claustrophobic horror for Agnes as she awaits her own appointment with judicial death.
Review by Helenliz
This is a novel giving a possible version of events leading up to the execution of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. She was convicted of murder, arson and theft (with 2 other people) of her lover and his friend. Between the trial and the execution, she was held by local officials and this tells of her coming to and residence with Jon and his family, a poor district commissioner who lives on a farm that Agnes had lived on as a child. Told by Agnes in the first person and narrated in the third person, it's an odd book. It didn't really grip me and it didn't really go anywhere entirely unexpected. Did she murder him? yes, were there potential extenuating circumstances? yes, would a modern court convict of murder? no, probably not. The supporting cast was drawn with varying degrees of clarity, some felt real, others never really filled out. It was good, but not brilliant.