Author: Hannah Kent | Publisher: Little, Brown & Company | Pages: 314 | Source: Bought |
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?
MY THOUGHTS: Burial Rites is a tale of such divine beauty – unforgettable in all aspects – to the point it's difficult to talk about Agnes' story without including this quotation from the book itself: “It’s written so deeply upon my mind I can almost taste the ink.” Kent's writing is evocative, leaving an indelible mark upon its readers: Burial Rites can't and won't be easily forgotten.
“To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things.”
Yet Burial Rites is not a new tale; Agnes is not a character from Kent's mind but rather a figure from years upon years before. It takes an extraordinary being to revive a tale in such a way – to breathe life into men and women long forgotten. And Hannah Kent is such a being: Burial Rites marks the arrival of a new author to watch. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this debut is just that: it's a debut. One can't help but ask: what else has this author got planned?
The genius of Burial Rites lies within the complexity of the characters: first and foremost, we have Agnes' narrative, her voice a haunting whisper laced with lyrical language; then comes Tóti, his mission with absolving Agnes, both fascinating and powerful; and last, we have the family tasked with looking after Agnes, their chapters becoming increasingly more gripping as the novel progresses. The dynamic relationships between these characters are well-crafted and, if you're interested in looking further into the character's pasts, Hannah Kent's "Discovering Agnes" (which comes after the epilogue) is a must-read.
Whilst, to begin with, Burial Rites is slow-paced, the second half is beyond gripping. I can't remember the last time I read a novel which so carefully combines sophisticated prose with exhilarating twists and turns. One of the best Scandinavian crime novels I've ever read.