Burial Rites - Hannah Kent

Reading Challenge Category: Book club March read

Official Blurb:

Iceland, 1829 – Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the murder of her lover. Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed.
Based on actual events, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, in which every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

My Thoughts:

I have to say, I was a little hesitant to pick up Burial Rites as it’s not my usual genre choice, but I’m so glad I did! From the very beginning, I was hooked. I was pleased to see Icelandic pronunciations given in the foreword, but I have to admit that I did end up skipping over some of the more difficult Icelandic words as I read. It was important not to get bogged down by the spellings as this could have detracted from enjoying the story and the book as a whole. So, if you pick this up to read, just go with it and don’t worry too much about trying to pronounce everything correctly in your head; otherwise, you will drive yourself mad!
The slow and deliberate unveiling of what really happened on the night of the murders was masterfully executed. I was fully invested in the story and eager to uncover the truth behind the events. Kent's vivid descriptions of everyday life in Iceland in the 1800s were a fascinating and eye-opening glimpse into the hardships and challenges faced by the people of that time.
Agnes's story was heart-wrenching and beautifully written. While Kent is somewhat vague about the line between fact and fiction in the book, it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. I was left wondering how much of Agnes's tale was based on reality and how much was crafted by the author to serve the narrative. Despite this ambiguity, the emotional impact of Agnes's story was undeniably powerful.
I also found the author's note at the end of the book to be really interesting, as it gave insight into how the project came to be and the hard work that was put into creating such a fantastic blend of story and history.
Overall, Burial Rites took me by surprise, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a compelling and thought-provoking read.

Burial Rites
by Hannah Kent
Date Started
26th March 2023
Date Finished
30th March 2023