Mr B's review
I can still remember the feeling I had when I finished reading this book, it is one of those that is so immersive that you are left not sure what to do after. Set in Iceland in 1829, Burial Rites is based on a true story, which only helps to make every part of the novel feels incredibly real and Hannah Kent describes the landscape in wonderful detail. Condemned to death, Agnes is sent to a rural farm to live out the last few months of her life. Immediately outcast, she is lonely and isolated from everyone around her. As the novel progresses we delve into her life and the events of the crime and the community starts to see that everything may not have played out exactly as they were told. Haunting and desperately moving, you can’t help but feel for our protagonist, Agnes, throughout. – Amy
Inspired by a true story, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites was shortlisted for The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Guardian First Book Award and The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards.
In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover.
Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Toti, 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?
Burial Rites is perfect for fans of Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan.
‘A story of swirling sagas, poetry, bitterness, claustrophobia . . . through the long countdown towards Agnes’s fate, it is Kent’s heart-racing imagery that lingers . . . even the bleakness of Agnes’s end, its gut-churning fear, holds an exhilaration that borders on the sublime.’ Sunday Telegraph `A remarkable achievement . . . Burial Rites will stand comparison with Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang.’ * Sunday Times * ‘This is a golden age both of historical fiction and of crime writing. A rare novel that combines both, this is one of the most gripping, intriguing and unique books I’ve read this year. Set in the harsh landscape of Iceland in the 19th century, it is a novel that bristles with beautiful description, that lays bare the harshness of women’s lives of the period and considers the nature of justice.’ Kate Mosse `Gorgeous and haunting, Burial Rites will touch your heart.’ Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat ‘So gripping I wanted to rush through the pages, but so beautifully written I wanted to linger over every sentence. Hannah Kent’s debut novel is outstanding.’ Madeline Miller, Orange Prize-winning author of The Song of Achilles ‘The debut that everyone’s talking about’ Guardian `All this research has paid off in spades: the end result is a novel so steeped in period detail that the extracts lifted from original sources sit eloquently alongside the fictionalised account, the transition between the two being effortlessly smooth . . . Burial Rites is a debut of rare sophistication and beauty – a simple but moving story, meticulously researched and hauntingly told.’ Observer ‘Startlingly vivid . . . This is a tormented tale of love and betrayal and divided loyalties recounted with heartfelt honesty . . . An exceptional debut.’ Sunday Express `Hannah’s rendering of Agnes Magnusdottir is as vivid and authentic as Mailer’s Gary Gilmore, but done with greater economy and aplomb. She has resurrected her heroine with grace and skill; her writing style is innately lyrical and her descriptions are clear and beautifully constructed. Her dialogue is entirely believable, a thing not easily done. Some writers never get it right; Hannah has done it with seeming effortlessness in her first novel. Burial Rites is an amazing book. I was completely engrossed all the way through, and heartbroken at its end.’ Donal Ryan, Man Booker longlisted author of The Spinning Heart `Haunting . . . startlingly vivid, a poetic reimagining of a world where “autumn fell upon the valley like a gasp” . . . Kent skilfully ratchets up the sense of antagonism towards Agnes but also builds a recognisable picture of ordinary family life confronting extraordinary events . . . This is a tormented tale of love and betrayal and divided loyalties recounted with heartfelt honesty . . . An exceptional debut.’ Eithne Farry, Sunday Express ‘Remarkable . . . extraordinary . . . Burial Rites is thought-provoking and often deeply moving . . . Beautifully written, this is a novel that will draw you in and touch your heart. Agnes will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.’ Daily Express ‘This dark thriller from Hannah Kent is a must-read . . . Gripping.’ Grazia ‘Haunting and beautiful’ Independent: 50 Best Beach Reads ‘An intriguing scenario’ Mail on Sunday ‘A beautifully written and haunting story.’ Kate Mosse, Mail on Sunday Event magazine `Burial Rites is beautiful and compelling . . . it’s the announcement of a writer to watch.’ Guardian ‘Kent is an Australian, but her beautiful first novel has the extraordinary setting of Iceland in the 1820s . . . a wonderfully strange and haunting story.’ The Times ‘One of the best “Scandinavian” crime novels I have read . . . this powerful book has the stark and tragic trajectory of the sagas . . . Hannah Kent’s prose is extraordinarily terse and precise as she tells the story from several different viewpoints . . . and the cruelty of human beings is described with vivid intensity. Yet the beauty and fascination of this way of life is movingly portrayed, as is the spirit of its highly literate people. Kent’s immersion in Icelandic lore seems total, though she came from the other side of the world. Great stories are universal.’ Independent `Spell-binding and moving, it’s the kind of novel that gets under your skin, moves your blood, your heart.’ Megan Abbott, author of The End of Everything and Dare Me A taut, atmospheric tale, compellingly told * Irish Independent * ‘This compelling, ripped-from-real-life tale reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace’ Karin Slaughter, best-selling author of Kisscut ‘Hannah Kent has crafted a genre all her own. Burial Rites is both a compelling thriller and a profound meditation on a mythic landscape.’ Annabel Lyon, author of The Golden Mean `A compelling read, heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure.’ Anne Berry, author of The Hungry Ghosts ‘A haunting, accomplished debut.’ Psychologies Based on the true story of the last woman to be executed in Iceland, Burial Rites is an incredibly moving novel and Hannah Kent evokes the harsh tundras of Iceland and the desolation of a powerless young woman living out her last days in a masterful way.’ Stylist.co.uk ‘Top 10 Must Reads of August Burial Rites is totally gripping & beautiful and has so much Nordic gloom that you feel frozen reading it. — India Knight In 19th-century Ireland, convicted killer Agnes Magnusdottir is sentenced to death for stabbing her lover, but still has the power to change lives. Kent brilliantly recreates a community surviving in an inhospitable climate, and conveys the ineluctable force of one woman’s personality on those around her. — Book of the Year * Financial Times * A remarkable, bleakly beautiful re-imagining of the last woman publicly executed in Iceland — Best Books of 2013 * Sunday Times * It’s hard to believe that Burial Rites . . . is a first novel. Based on the last case of capital punishment in Iceland, in 1830, it’s meticulously researched, with the past so strongly evoked that one can almost smell it: a simple, moving story, told with confidence. — Best Crime Books of the Year * Guardian * ‘Compelling’ Woman & Home ‘A haunting and immersive debut.’ The List ‘This is a truly powerful novel, beautifully written . . . Desolate but brilliant.’ The Lady ‘A highly impressive debut . . . Despite the fact that we know Agnes’s fate from the outset, the power of the writing makes her story utterly compelling, and Kent skilfully leads us to question the extent of Agnes’s guilt throughout. In the process she paints a vivid, if bleak picture of the society.’ Sunday Herald ‘A gripping tale.’ New York Times Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, a remarkably assured debut, takes a tale of crime and punishment in 1820s Iceland and through it opens a window, lit with harsh brilliance, on to an alien world. — Boyd Tonkin, Books of the Year * Independent * ‘A darkly gothic romance, a love song to the bleak beauty of Iceland, and a moving eulogy to a woman who had the odds stacked against her.’ Irish Examiner ‘An outstandingly good debut . . . I found myself spellbound . . . Kent has done a great deal of research and transformed its results into a work of art.’ Literary Review ‘A deeply compelling debut; gripping yet lyrical.’ Irish Examiner ‘Vividly descriptive . . . beautifully written, thoughtfully presented and utterly memorable.’ Choice Magazine ‘Exceptionally powerful and original . . . Hannah Kent skilfully conjures up the daunting landscape of the country, in which individuals, dwarfed by their surroundings, must always struggle to survive.’ BBC History Magazine ‘An accomplished gem, its prose as crisp and sparkling as its northern setting.’ Geraldine Brooks, author of Year of Wonders ‘This amazing debut has literary prize written all over it . . . [and] all the hallmarks of a brooding Nordic noir’ Marie Claire ‘A gripping narrative of love and murder that inhabits a landscape and time frame as bleak and unforgiving as the crime and punishment that occurred there.’ San Francisco Chronicle ‘With language flickering, sparkling and flashing like the northern lights . . . A magical exercise in artful literary fiction’ Kirkus starred review `Burial Rites, Kent’s compelling fictionalised account of the end days of Agnes Magnusdottir . . . with its glimpse into icy frontier lands, the struggles of a farming peasantry, the looming shadow of an executioner’s axe and a strong, if misunderstood, female character . . . uses extracts from the historical records to stitch together a credible account of a woman more victim than villain.’ Age `The most talked about Australian debut novel in years. Burial Rites reimagines the life and death of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland.’ Australian `Hannah Kent has a fine turn of phrase . . . that makes Agnes Magnusdottir, the central figure in her debut novel, both elusive and captivating . . . Kent is to be commended for being drawn to a story and a character rather than any narrow cultural agenda. Burial Rites is far removed from us in time and place and, ironically, this fact makes it an intimate experience. It draws close to the bones and sinews of human experience as it gives voice to a yearning for more than the law can provide.’ Sydney Morning Herald
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