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.
I found myself deeply moved by this novel, but also distinctly depressed. It’s a grim story, no two ways about it, but it’s written beautifully.
I was completely swept up in the moment each time I returned to the pages of Burial Rites. The depiction of Northern Iceland in the 1820s was particularly fascinating, the harshness of life quite stunning. It’s not a location I’ve read about before, and I felt that Hannah did this setting justice, her first hand experience of having lived there for a time shining through in her vivid, yet realistic descriptions.
I was empathetic to Agnes right from the start, quietly hopeful, despite already knowing the ending. The supporting characters were engaging and not over represented.
I am quite impressed by this novel, considering it was a debut for Hannah Kent, who is also relatively young, particularly at the time of writing Burial Rites. This is certainly not a novel you would want to read if you were looking for something light and happy. But if you appreciate quality historical literary fiction, that is impeccably researched, with characters containing depth and layers, then Burial Rites might just be the book for you.
Burial Rites was read in October of last year as part of my 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge. This review has been re-written for this article.