Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

burial rites

Few stories haunt. Truly haunt. Whether through fear or injustice or that simple reticent feeling that stays with the reader well past the turn of the final page. Few stories haunt. In her debut novel, Burial Rites, Hannah Kent has created a truly haunting tale of murder, injustice and the aftermath of the crime.

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

Agnes Magnusdottir has been convicted of the brutal murder of two men. Along with two accomplices she has been sentenced to die. Awaiting her sentence she is removed to an isolated farm in the farthest reaches of Iceland. The family she is sent to stay with is horrified to have such evil in their home, afraid of how her presence will taint their peaceful lives.

…It was not so hard to believe a beautiful woman capable of murder, Margret thought. As it says in the sagas, Opt er flagd I fogru skinni. A witch often has fair skin.
   But this woman was neither ugly nor a beauty…

The family is drawn into the plight of Agnes as she waits in their servitude. Neighbors come to gawk and gossip. Believing somehow that her act of violence is a sign of supernatural power. Whispers of witchcraft follow. Agnes requests a young priest named Toti, whose duty it is, to make her feel repentant for her crime. Something Agnes cannot do.

Slowly, instead of confessing and asking for absolution from God; Agnes tells her tale. A story of loss and desperation. Of betrayal and trust. A live of bitter disappointment that ended one night with a blade in her hand. How Agnes came to be in the home of the victim Natan and the promises made to her that he found so easy to break. Her alliance with the young thug Fridrik and the teenage girl Sigga and how their anger erupted one night in blood and fire.

Burial Rites is based on a true happening. The research done is detailed and well gathered. The novel itself embodies its setting in much of the story and becomes a central theme to the impoverised lives of those who survive in this remote part of the world.

Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be executed in Iceland. You will not forget her. She will haunt you in these pages long after the book is closed.

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