Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a remarkable novel set in Northern Iceland in the early 19th Century. It sat on my book shelf for quite a while before I read it. When I heard that it was primarily about the life of a condemned woman awaiting execution, I was a little reluctant to start reading it.
When I finally did begin, though, I was mesmerized by the story. The brutality of the winter season. The abject poverty accepted by the simple people. The heartfelt narrative of unrealized longing between Toti, a naive, young reverend sent to offer final religious instruction, and Agnes Magnusdottir, the condemned woman. Rather than instructing her, Toti becomes Agnes’ confessor, as the story of her miserable and meager life is revealed.
All of the characters whose lives have been touched by Agnes are shown for their courage, ignorance, base prejudice, and most remarkably for their redemption. They are changed by deep, personal realisations as they watch her stoic heroism in the face of impending death.
This book is startling; most especially because author, Hannah Kent, is only thirty two years old. The maturity, wisdom, and insight shown by the sensitivity of this author are rare.
This 338 page book is highly recommended for those readers who are willing to engage with inspiring thoughtful material.
Member of the SMSA Mystery& Crime Reading Group