Book Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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burial rites

Published: 2013

An Australian writing about Iceland?! Say what?! That was my reaction when I read up about Hannah Kent and her inspiration for this novel. She had gone on an exchange to Iceland with the Rotary Club as a teenager where she first heard of the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, a the true tale that inspired her to make it part of her creative component of her PhD she was working towards in Australia.

During her first few weeks in Iceland she noted she felt very socially isolated while living in a small tight-knit community in Northern Iceland who was not used to have foreign exchange students in their small little town; a feeling that definitely juxtaposes Agnes’s feelings throughout the entire book. The feeling of loneliness, cold and isolation are probably one of the main themes of the novel.

Perhaps that is exactly what I struggled with most when reading this book. It’s very dark, but not necessarily an evil kind of darkness. Isolation, cold, nothingness, snow, emptiness; these are the elements that all characters seem to experience throughout the story. There is no warm cozy fireplace on a cold winter’s day, no hot chocolate to help your cheeks flush back to life after being stuck out in the snowstorm.

This is Agnes’ story of her life, of the details leading up to the murder of Natan, of her life before she was sentenced to death in being found guilty of murder. As Hannah’s first novel I must say I was impressed. I felt she really captured the characters’ feelings. At the beginning of the novel it’s established quickly that Agnes has it rough to put it mildly. Hannah drives the point home that Agnes is isolated from society and treated like an animal:

“That dress was my last possession. There is nothing in the world I now own; even the heat my body gives out is taken away by the summer breeze.” (76)

Unfortunately, I felt a little disconnection from the plot for about 75 pages shortly after the beginning, and I felt she was being a bit redundant. Over emphasizing certain points, and not giving enough to the reader in regards to the story. Instead I think she could have easily cut down the size of the book, and would have kept the reader engaged, instead of overemphasizing Agnes’s miserable conditions. It picks up later, and then ends with a real bang.

Verdict: Very interesting read, the geographical location really sets the scene and is a nice variation from the modern books I have read about western societies. A darker read, so might have an effect on your mood. I made the mistake of reading it during a rougher moment, and I must say it did not do me good!

Have you read this book? Has a book in the past make you feel cold and lonely?

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