Book Review: BURIAL RITES, Hannah Kent

I’m not complaining, but when did historical Icelandic fiction (or should that be Icelandic historical fiction) become a thing? Why Iceland? Is it because it’s on the edge of the world, and is European, but only just?

“I can turn to that day as though it were a page in a book. It’s written so deeply upon my mind I can almost taste the ink.” 

Anyway, Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent. The novel is based on actual events, the Illugastadir murders and the execution of Agnes Magnusdottir for the crime. Agnes was the last person executed in Iceland, on January 12, 1830. The novel is an attempt to try and see the world through the eyes of Agnes, from her imprisonment until her execution. The prose is beautiful, and the story is moving, tragic, and, if Hannah Kent is to be believed, entirely unjust. Did Agnus murder Natan Ketilsson? We can never know, and Kent offers us an answer. 

“It was not hard to believe a beautiful woman capable of murder, Margret thought. As it says in the sagas, Opt er flago i fogru skinni. A witch often has fair skin.” 

A murderess, who insists she is innocent. A terrified family, who are forced to take her in. A trainee priest, who she asks to absolve her sins. Winter is coming, when Agnes will be executed. Can she be saved? Will her sins be forgiven?

I loved this book, thoroughly enjoyed it. I think my mum recommended it to me, which means it took me forever to get around to, even though she has great taste in books.

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