Burial Rites by Hannah Kent / ★★★★★
Summary: Charged with the brutal murder of two men, Agnes is sent to await her execution at an isolated farm in Northern Iceland, home to a family she does not know and with only a young reverend sent to listen to her.
They will not be able to see my words for themselves. They will see the whore, the madwoman, the murderess, the female dripping blood in to the grass and laughing with her mouth choked with dirt. They will say “Agnes” and see the spider, the witch caught in the webbing of her own fateful weaving. They might see the lamb circled by ravens, bleating for a lost mother. But they will not see me. I will not be there.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Oh my gosh, I loved this book. The only reason it took me a bit longer to read it than usual is because I’ve been feeling a bit book slumpy lately, but even that didn’t take away my enjoyment or appreciation of this book.
Burial Rites is powerfully atmospheric, haunting, and crushingly moving. I loved every single thing about it. Based off the true story of Agnus Magnusdottir and the murder she was charged for in early 1800s Iceland, this book is a fantastically dark piece of historical fiction. Hannah Kent is extremely thorough in her research, her writing, and her portrayal of Agnes’s story. The progression of this book felt like a slow, steady descent, growing darker and colder with the seasons, and it sucked me in deeper the more I read.
I loved the opposing forces in this book. I loved the religious themes against a more superstitious kind of faith. The religious law vs. spiritual truth vs. human heart and what that meant for an individual’s – and country’s – capability to give mercy, and the type of person who was likely to receive it, was so well done. These, and so many other factors and details, surrounding a woman and a gruesome murder made a fascinating and devastating story, and when I finished the book my heart felt very heavy. I loved it.
I loved these characters. All of them had Grade A development over the course of this book. They were so well done, and I didn’t expect them to latch too firmly to my heart, but they did. I loved the way each character had something distinctly different in their personality and in their values that contributed to the themes of truth, law, and justice. I loved the way Agnes slowly reveals her story, and to whom she choses to reveal it to, and the increasing desperation I got from her as the book drew to a close, the plight of a girl who was too able and shrewd. Agnes was a fantastic character.
Margret, the wife of the household Agnes is forced upon, was my favorite character. Her sturdiness, strength, her brusk nature and her strong heart despite her ailing lungs grew on me from the minute Agnes walked into her house, and I loved their relationship. My other favorite was Tóti, the reverend Agnes requests for “spiritual guidance” to lead her into her last days. Even with his quiet, gentle nature I really wasn’t quite sure what to make of him at first – did I like him, or not? – and it really wasn’t until the end I was really overblown by his part in the book. His final line just GOT ME.
The writing of this book was MAGNIFICENT. The eerie atmosphere, the setting of dark, wet, freezing 19th century Iceland was so well done I felt as if I could be there, like if I got on a plane and flew there right now I’d know exactly what to expect. Kent’s prose was beautiful and bone-chilling. The descriptions and progression of the scenes was cinematic. I’d love to watch this as a movie. Not to mention, this book pulls off the task of switching flawlessly back and forth between first person and third. Usually I might find this offsetting, but it was perfect for this book, and it made so much sense.
Most of all, I loved the way Kent was able to convey emotion through her writing. Her descriptions of terror, of anger, of desperation were so bone-deep it was like I could feel them in my own skin. Everything in this book was coated in an overall sensation of impending, quiet doom. And yet? I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland, but now I want to so much more.
Was I satisfied?
YES. When I finished it, I fell back in my seat and thought, “WOW.” If you want some dark, atmospheric historical fiction, go read this.