I’m going to put a warning out right now, before we even get in to reviewing this book:
If you’re not a big fan of having your heart ripped out and sobbing in to a tissue at four in the afternoon because life is but a fragile flower and oh god you need a glass of wine…
Too bad, because this book will do all of that, but you’ll still love it because it’s just that good.
If this review encourages you to read this book, I feel like saying sorry and you’re welcome, both at the same time.
Pages per day: 47
I thought I’d be okay.
I thought I would find this book to be intriguing, mysterious, dark and intense, but would be able to detach myself without too much of a struggle, ready to hop on to the next book in my challenge.
I was so wrong.
Burial Rites, based on a true story, is set in Iceland tells the story of convicted murderer, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, who has been sentenced to death by beheading. She is sent to wait out her remaining days in the home of the District Officer, Jón Jónsson, and his family. She is counselled through her final days by her spiritual guardian, assistant reverend Tóti, who encourages to share the story of her life and the events that lead up to the night of the murder, before it’s too late.
It’s hard to imagine this book as Hannah Kent’s first. A trip to Iceland on a student exchange program and the mention of Agnes in passing sparked her intrigue, and the woman – the last person executed in Iceland – stayed with her, until she knew that Agnes’ story would be the subject of her PhD. Six weeks in Iceland and countless hours of historical-record-scouring later, the manuscript was begun, and this mountain of a book was brought to life.
If I could un-read this book and read it again, just so I could experience the emotions I felt while reading it all over again, I would. I’m not lying when I said that the ending made me sob stupidly, making the pages wet, while my boyfriend comforted me by rubbing my back and saying “It’s okay! It’s only a book! It’s only fiction!” to which I wailed “It’s based on a true story, you asshole! IT REALLY HAPPENED!”
Not one of my finest moments.
The character of Agnes is so complex, that it’s hard not to love her. We see her struggle with the hatred of those she lives with, and the way she must come to terms with her impending end. It’s hard to imagine anyone being put in this situation, and obviously nearly impossible to comprehend ourselves. The theme of death is naturally visited throughout this book, in a delicate but unflinching way.
I cannot stress to you how beautiful the writing throughout this book is. Hannah Kent truly has a way with words, manipulating them so that they cut you completely to the bone. The back of the book describes it as “cut-glass prose” and I don’t think I could put it any better. It’s not just any book that gets me snotting in to a tissue – it takes something seriously special. (Also, I have a huge soft spot for Australian authors, Hannah Kent being no exception.)
If you haven’t read this book yet, do yourself a favour and pick it up from Book Depository here. If you have experienced the emotional turmoil that is Burial Rites, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!
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Next week’s book is The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North. The review will be posted next Monday – make sure to check in! If you’ve got any other suggestions for book for my challenge, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments below!
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~Some links in this article are affiliate links in that if you purchase something from them, it will not cost you any more, but I will earn a small commission. This does not influence my recommendation in any way, I would still use this product even if I were not an affiliate.~