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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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Joined: August 2008

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Post by annis » Mon June 17th, 2013, 11:27 pm


During the trial, they plucked at my words like birds. Dreadful birds, dressed in red with breast of silver buttons, and cocked heads and sharp mouths, looking for guilt like berries on a bush . . . Everything I said was taken from me and altered until the story wasn’t my own.

The tragedy of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last person ever to be executed in Iceland, seems a grim and unpromising subject for a novel, but Kent has taken the last months of Agnes' life, spent in custody at a remote Icelandic settlement, and woven from them a compelling story within a story which is heartbreaking yet unexpectedly uplifting.

The author has lived in Iceland and is fluent in the language. Iceland’s magnificent, awe-inspiring landscape has always lent itself to legend, and its powerful presence, both physical and mythic, shapes this story and the lives of its characters with inexorable force. The murders at the heart of Burial Rites - a revenge-killing and hall-burning inspired by slighted honour and jealousy, followed later by the ritual beheading of the accused by the brother of one of the victims - could easily have come straight out of the old Icelandic sagas, a parallel reinforced by Kent's use of poetic elements associated with the saga tradition.

A haunting mystery of the human heart, Burial Rites is a remarkable debut and merits the buzz that it’s stirred up. The evocation of time and place is superb and the characterization deeply nuanced. Ambiguous Agnes, the eternal outsider, is the focus for a wide range of unsettling reactions and emotions and a complex network of relationships, all developed with sensitivity. Relentless time drives the narrative and though we know how this multi-layered and moving tale must end, as we get to know Agnes we desperately wish we could stop the steady ticking of the clock and give her a second chance.

Review at Historical Novels Info

The lonely spot when Agnes met her end.

Burial Rites has been chosen for the 2013 Waterstones Eleven and is also a historical fiction pick for this year’s Book Expo America. It has only just been released in Australasia. Release date for the UK is August, with September for the US, so for once us Downunderers get something first :)

And for those who enjoy a touch of the gothic, a spooky story about Agnes' execution and the later discovery of her head
Last edited by annis on Thu June 20th, 2013, 4:40 am, edited 29 times in total.

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