Burial Rites by Hannah KentA brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.
Set against Icelands 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 Agness death looms, the farmers wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story theyve heard.
Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?
Book Review: 'Burial Rites' by Hannah Kent
What I really need to do is make sure what I am seeing is the real deal and not a complete figment of my imagination. One of the two men Agnes was accused of murdering, Natan Ketilsson, was a personality of the times, connected with poets and freethinkers, and the episode is still known in Iceland. It has previously been the subject of books and films. In this English-language treatment, the archival sources prominently feature. Direct translations of historical documents appear as extended epigraphs to each of the thirteen chapters, setting rather strict narrative limits. The historical materials are absorbed into the tissue of the novel in the way that some contemporary historical films make use of contemporaneous footage.
H annah Kent sets herself an ambitious task in Burial Rites , now longlisted for the Guardian first book award. A man and a woman were beheaded for a murder committed on a remote farm. They said that I stole the breath from the men, and now they must steal mine. Kent further compounds these problems by using multiple narrators and presenting chunks of archival material as epigraphs in an already deliberately disjointed narrative. Almost all of the time, Burial Rites pulls it off. The rhythms of farm work are the novel's metronome: shearing, lambing, milking, slaughter, and then the lacuna of the Icelandic winter when even in an emergency there is nowhere to go and no possibility of getting there anyway one of the documents covers the horrifying possibility of postponing the execution if the weather is too bad.
A 19th-century farming family in Iceland must house a murderer waiting to die.
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Based on a true 19th-century story, this powerful book has the stark and tragic trajectory of the sagas, where a veneer of Christianity cannot conceal a bleak and stoic belief in the workings of fate. Old superstitions are rife, convicted murderers face the barbaric penalty of death by beheading with an axe, yet the rites of Christianity are enforced. In , three people in a remote farmstead are convicted of the murder of their employer, beaten and stabbed to death. One of the accused, a servant woman in her thirties, is sent to work for a local family while she waits for a court in faraway Copenhagen to decide her fate, which, if there is no mitigation, will be death. Chained and half-starved, Agnes Magnusdottir is initially regarded as a monster, but gradually the mother of the family and the young priest who attends her, come to realise that the story was far more complex than the facts presented in court. The dead man was not a simple farmer but something with resonances in an ancient past and a highly manipulative personality.