Book Reviews

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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List Price: £8.99

 

Paperback: 384 Pages.

Published: 27 February 2014 by Picador

Edition: Reprints

ISBN: 1447233174

EAN: 9781447233176

Northern Iceland, 1829.

A woman condemned to death for murdering her lover.

A family forced to take her in.

A priest tasked with absolving her.

But all is not as it seems, and time is running out:

winter is coming, and with it the execution date.

Only she can know the truth. This is Agnes's story.

Reviews

5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars  by Anne

Excellent historical novel

Set in the early 1800s this is the story of Agnes who lives in Iceland and who has been condemned to death for murder. Because the country wants to show its independence she has been tried locally and will be the first execution in many years carried out by the local authorities. Because they do not have the justice infrastructure Agnes is kept on an isolated farm belonging to a family connected with the local magistrate. She will live with the family and her servants until the sentence is carried out.

The book tells the story from several points of view and starts with those who have to have Agnes living with them. We learn about life on an Icelandic farm at this time which is grim and fragile. We see the work that the people carry out and how dependent they are on one another. The family start by fearing and hating Agnes and then they come to have a more complex relationship with her as they live in close proximity.

The second part of the book tells the story of how Agnes ended up being accused of murder. It is a sad tale of social outsiders and how vulnerable people are, especially women, who have no family protection, no money and no one in power to speak up for them. The story of the murder is very realistic and you can see how it developed - apparently the novel is based on real life events.

I enjoyed reading this book. I liked the historical background and the social commentary which was part of the plot. I thought that the way that the story was told was very effective in that the only voice we never heard was that of Agnes herself. Thought provoking, clever and definitely harrowing in places.

3.0 Stars3.0 Stars3.0 Stars  by Debra Found

Interesting Background, Slow Plot

Set in nineteenth century Iceland this book tells the story of Agnes

Magnusdottir. Agnes is being held before execution for her part in the

murder of two men. As the book unfolds Agnes tells her lifestory; her

abandonment by her mother, the death of her foster mother and the way

that she was used by various men.

For me the fascination of this book

is the descriptions of Iceland, both the scenery and the way of life.

The story is set within a rural community where families live on

isolated farms working hard against the elements to raise livestock and

grow enough crops to stop themselves from starving. The descriptions of

the countryside and way of life are bleak and cruel. The darkness, snow

and rain with only a few passing comments on the sunny days. I enjoyed

reading about the way of life where everyone sleeps in one room both

servants and family alike and how the most important thing in the winter

is having enough warmth and food to make it through the snowed in

months to spring. This is a fascinating insight into this world of which

I knew more or less nothing. It is a very bleak and dark background for

Agnes' story which is also quite bleak.

Much as I enjoyed the

setting and the descriptions, the actual plot is quite weak. Agnes is

living with a family prior to her execution. It is an unusual

arrangement and it seems as if it was more usual for murderers to be

transported to Denmark for their execution. Agnes gradually tells her

story to a young priest and, via her thoughts, to the reader. There

isn't actually that much to her story. It certainly isn't particularly

dramatic or exciting. As the book progressed I started to loose

interest. Much as I enjoyed the descriptions and had enjoyed the

beginning of Agnes' story it started to get rather repetative and

boring. This is not a book where a great deal happens. It is a book

where almost nothing positive happens.

The reader is presented with

Agnes' side of the story as well as some official documents. It is up to

the reader to decide if Agnes was a hard done by woman who had suffered

greatly in her life or a manipulating, lying woman who used other

people. There is no hard and fast conclusion. Decide for yourself.

I

enjoyed the descriptions and social history side of this book but apart

from that I found it quite dull. None of the characters are particularly

likeable and I really felt that there was just not enough plot content

to make this book flow.

 
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