Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Agnes Magnúsdóttir and Friðrik Sigurðsson have been sentenced to death, for the murder of Natan Ketilsson. Welcome to Iceland, 1830. 

“They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine.”

And so it begins. A beautiful, haunting story of a young woman sentenced, the naive priest - Tóti - whose duty it is  to counsel her to see the error of her ways, and the upright family, upon whom she is thrust, who must provide her with food and shelter in her final weeks.

“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.”

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Hannah Kent, in this debut, which took her ten years of research - information on the last woman sentenced to death in Iceland was difficult to come by - creates a realistic world for Agnes. You will weep for her lost childhood, ache with her pain, feel her anger and desperation, and realise there is no escape from her desolation. It's brilliantly done. There is no remorse in the bleak, dire landscape, neither in the hearts of those who condemn her too.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The narration by Morven Christie is superb, and it's one of those that will stay with me for a long time. 

Not a happy tale but well worth the reading.

4 stars.


This reminded me of another atmospheric tale - The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton. Or for more good historical fiction, try His Bloody Tale by Graeme Macrae Burnet.


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