Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Title: Burial Rites
Author: Hannah Kent
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Released: September 10, 2013
Source: friend (Shannon at River City Reading)

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

Burial Rites is based on the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last person execution in Iceland. From the very first pages of the book, Agnes never claims innocence or guilt. We can tell there’s more to her story, but are left unsure… is she actually guilty? Is she innocent? Maybe it’s more complicated than that, somewhere in between. Or is Agnes simply mourning that one decision will forever define her? We just can’t tell, and that makes for a gripping read.

Much of the narrative is in third person; we are spectators. But Agnes’s story is revealed to us through her eyes. Everything Agnes hears, sees, and feels is keenly felt. Hannah Kent’s writing is phenomenal in this way. And the last thirteen pages or so were altogether intense, utterly terrifying, sickening, and beautifully handled.

My stomach was in knots! And you know, I knew what was going to happen at the end of this book. Yet I turned page after page, feeling like maybe, just maybe, it would end differently. I held on to that irrational sliver of hope all the way to the end. Hannah Kent’s powerful novel swept me away had me fully invested in the main character.

Incredible read.