Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

kent_burialritesBurial Rites was the book club pick for June, and I finished it late. However, I’m not sure the fact that it’s not been very long since I finished is going to make this note a long one. Still, anything is better than nothing.

Hannah Kent’s first novel has had praise heaped on it, and I guess I’m going to join the choir. I was fascinated, and in a way I didn’t really expect. I suppose I expected to be bored by the gloominess and the hopelessness of it all. But instead the changing points of view and the way the story is told from several perspectives of time as well as of character leaves me wanting more, and the tale is at times as gripping as a crime novel (which, in a sense, I suppose this is): Who did it, and why?

The novel is based on actual historic events, Agnes Magnúsdóttir was the last person to be executed in Iceland, in 1829 and each chapter starts with an excerpt from official papers regarding the case; letters or court documents. The framework, therefore, is a true story, and much of the detail is based on thorough research into the lives of people in 19th century Icelandic society. The motives, the thoughts and the actions of the characters, are, of course, fiction, but they, also, ring true.

Agnes is a cleverly drawn character and she wins the reader over, just as she wins her unwilling gaolers over in the end.

If I was young and simple-minded, do you think everyone would be pointing the finger at me? No. They’d blame it on Fridrik, saying he overpowered us. Forced us to kill Natan because he wanted his money. That Fridrik desired a little of what Natan had is no great secret. But they see I’ve got a head on my shoulders, and believe a thinking woman cannot be trusted. Believe there’s no room for innocence. And like it or not, Reverend, that is the truth of it.

(Page 132.)