Friday, 6 December 2013

Book: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Agnus has been found guilty of murder, along with two others, Sigga and Fridirick. While Sigga was granted a life sentence, both Agnus and Fridirick are sentenced to death. But Iceland has no prisons of its own, and Agnus is sent to Kornsa where Jon and Margret live with their two daughters to await execution. It is here that the family get to know Agnus and her story, and ultimately come to care for her, particularly once she starts telling Toti, an assistant priest, her story, and as always, things aren't always as black and white as they seem.

Link to Goodreads
Link to amazon

I'd like to apologise in advance for any spelling or accent errors in Icelandic names and places.

I just finished Burial Rites and my first response is that I want to cry. To say that the ending was evident from the beginning, I just didn't seem to be emotionally prepared for the news of Agnus' death. On the note of the ending, I think that Kent ended the story at just the right point, I feel that had she written a description of the execution it would have stolen some of the beauty from the book.

I must admit to wondering about how much of the story is true, it isn't the facts that I am disputing, rather more the what really happened on the night of the murders. Kent writes in such a way that, though you know Agnus is a convicted murderer, you still come to care for her as a character. Personally I struggle to think of the real Agnus being any more guilty than her fictional counterpart.

There was only one issue that I really had with Burial Rites and that was the odd switches between the first and the third person narrative (the first persons being Agnus'). The sections were clearly separated, but other than that there was no structure to it, and I would have just preferred there to be a little more.

Saying that though, I thought that it was interesting to see Agnus' view point on various things and on past events, and I think that Kent successfully captured the chaos of a person's mind after an emotional upheaval, shown through Agnus.

At the start of each chapter there were extracts from the court hearing, and letters associated with the case, as well as some poems and other traditional Icelandic writings. I think that these added a real sense of truth to the story in Burial Rites. It was impossible to forget with this book that the characters, the events and the story are in fact all real.

I read this book at the request of my Dad to tell him if he'd like it, and I'm glad I've read it (I probably wouldn't have otherwise). Heartbreaking, moving and beautiful, Burial Rites is definitely one to read.