Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

After hearing so much about this book around the place from reviews and friends I was excited when I finally got the chance to pick up Burial Rites. In particular considering it was written by a local author who attends the same university I studied at. Its great being able to support local writers, especially when their debut is this good. Burial Rites is a fictional narrative based on true events surrounding the last woman to be executed in Iceland. Many of the characters names and all the locations in the book are real. The amount of research the author would have put into writing as accurately as this would have been considerable but definitely pays off. The character, their actions and their personalities are fictional.

 

Kent describes hauntingly beautiful scenery in the novel showing a true passion for Iceland. A friend mentioned that part of what drew her into the book so much was how accurate the depiction of the Icelandic landscape was having travelled there herself. For me, it just makes me want to go and visit Iceland immediately. Kent paints a picture of a desolate and unforgiving landscape with a deadly beauty to it. You need to work together and fight to survive.

 

The characters she has built around the historical names were all fascinating and draw you in. Each is complicated and layered, none of them all good or all bad. Margaret, Toti and of course Agnes were all favourites. In particular I loved the way Agnes slowly told her story over the course of the novel as she became more comfortable in her surroundings. I appreciate that Kent has taken this infamous name along with all the stories and accounts labelling Agnes a witch, a murderess and created a more ambiguous character showing her humanity, making her real. The slow reveal of that fateful night made for a fast-paced read that had me entranced. The multiple perspectives used across the story along with the excerpts from letters, your documents and poems kept each chapter fresh and unique.

 

Overall I immensely enjoyed this novel and would definitely recommend it to anyone. For a debut novel it had beguiling descriptions that took hold of you and wrapped you up in the story making you want more until you finally had brought the story to a close. I give Burial Rites four snowflakes from the beautiful yet harsh landscape that is Iceland.

 

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