Author: Hannah Kent
Reminiscent of Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg Hannah Kent’s ephemeral novel about an Icelandic woman who is condemned to death for the murder of her lover and master proves stunningly beautiful amidst sorrow, anguish and the inhumanity shown to her protagonist. Agnes Magnusdottir, the convicted woman, creates a collage of emotions and endears herself to the family she is placed with until she is executed. Kent’s writing, illuminating, prosaic and luminescent, transports us to Iceland in 1828, where cold, isolation and cruelty combats the soul of one woman as she awaits her fate. Kent’s talent immerses us in the isolated farm family that is forced to take her in and the young assistant priest whom Agnes requests to help her face her death.
The story is told by portions of Agnes’s thoughts, by letters from District Commissioner Bjorn Blondal, and various priests that he contacts. Other portions contain the narrative of the story. The characters pivot around Agnes: Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jonsson, Agnes’s chosen priest, the family she has to stay with, Jon Jonsson, his wife Margret and their two daughters, Lauga and Steina. They live in isolated and bleak Kornsa, where Jon is the District Officer of Vatnsdalur. The family is horrified, both by the crime and the fact that one of the three murders is coming to stay with them until executed. No one knows when Blondal will set the date of the beheading.
In Stora-Borg, Fridrik Sigurdsson, with the assistance of Agnes Magnusdottir and Sigridur Gudmundsdottir have supposedly stabbed Natan Ketilsson to death and killed Petur Jonsson by crushing his head. Natan , a mysterious man who collects herbs and sells potion, has been lover to Agnes, and has betrayed her with Sigridur.
As Kent weaves her bleak tale of loss, distortion of love and the courage of Agnes in spite of her landscape, she reveals the reality of the scheme through Agnes. Agnes and Margret as well as Jon, Steina and Lauga grow close as the family realizes that Agnes is not a murderer, she cannot be.
Mystical and as cold as the frozen tundra of Iceland, Burial Rites displays a brilliant palette of characters and plot. This is one of those novels that dwells in you are you read it, and resonates even after you put it down. Hannah Kent, a brilliant novelist, stuns and commands us as she relays Agnes’s tale, which is based on a true event.
Wonderful. One of the best I have read all year.
As powerful as an avalanche, as lyrical as a poem, Kent’s Burial Rites is perfect.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own
Burial Rites: A Novel is available on Amazon.com and booksellers nationwide