Published: September 10, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Goodreads First Reads Program
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?
I realize that I'm probably one of the last people--or at least one of the last book bloggers--to read this book. This is partly intentional. Right after I received this book, the buzz really started brewing about this book and I knew that I didn't want to read it in the midst of all the hype, thinking it would either lead me to think I liked it more than I did or lead me to be more critical than I should be about it.
So, I waited months and months before picking it up and, while I am glad I decided to wait out the hype on it, I will say that it was very deserving of the buzz. This is a devastatingly beautiful book. I could gush on and on about this, but instead I will focus on the two most elements of this book I found the most striking.
Kent's use of language is exquisite. It is very readable, which is a necessity when the subject matter is tough. But she isn't flowery or overly poetic. If anything, she's a bit stark--which fits well with this book. Iceland, especially in the winter, is a harsh land and Kent chooses a language that fits that. The characters are also very matter-of-fact people and giving them elaborate dialogue just would not fit.
Kent also expertly paces this book. It would have been very easy for her to lay down all of Agnes's cards at the beginning of the book and then let her character develop from there. Instead, Agnes first appears mysterious and surrounded in gossip and it is as the book progresses that the layers are peeled away, marching relentless towards the end of the book.
Burial Rites is a masterpiece, and one that I think has a wide appeal. I would especially recommend this book for book clubs looking for something meaty, but not overwhelming.
I received a copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program. I was encouraged, but not required, to write an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.