Thursday, October 3, 2013

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial RitesSet 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.

This is an interesting story that takes place in a location we don’t often read about: Iceland. I’d heard man great things about this novel, and while some parts of it didn’t necessarily seem needed, the overall quality of the novel is pretty high.

What I feel hurt this novel more than anything is the potpourri of historical correspondences the author added throughout the book. I understand that, since it is based on a historical event and a historical character, she wanted to infuse as much authenticity into the writing as possible, but they don’t really add anything to the plot itself, since we learn everything the letters say in other scenes. It felt more like a gimmick than anything else.

Something I did enjoy about the novel, however, was the way that the author let us know exactly what was going to happen to Agnes, the protagonist, from the first few pages and then followed through with it. We knew she was going to be executed and still, we expected a miracle to save her. It recreates a bit of what anyone in that situation would be experiencing: the hope of salvation.

There are some lovely moments in the writing, with the author creating beautiful imagery and atmosphere. I just felt that she took more effort to give us historical accuracy than trying to get us to understand the characters better.

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