Top positive review
A Dark, Disturbing Book--And You Must Read It!
Reviewed in the United States on March 15, 2017
This is a dark book. With an even darker ending. But that's not a spoiler because this extraordinary tale by Hannah Kent (published in 2010 when she was only 25 years old!) is based on actual historical events. While it is a novel, the author's prodigious research gives the story authenticity.
Taking place in Iceland in 1828, "Burial Rites" is a (partially) fictionalized account of the life and death of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a young woman found guilty of the murder of her lover. While she awaits her execution, she is housed in the remote country home of a low-level government official, his wife and two grown daughters. She chooses a young and inexperienced priest named Tóti to counsel her. The family is frightened to accommodate the prisoner, but something happens over the months that Agnes lives with them. She talks. Tóti listens. The family listens. Is Agnes really guilty of this horrific, bloody crime?
While the murder may be the tantalizing centerpiece of the story, the descriptions of the north of Iceland are so vivid, the reader can almost feel the brutal cold, see the snow and hear the howling winds. Like I did, you may find yourself looking online for photos of a badstofa, turf homes and the barren winter landscape of north Iceland.
This isn't a light beach book. It is by turns disturbing, alarming and sorrowful with no humor to lighten the woeful tale. But it is an incredible book that will give you an appreciation for this time and place and the most basic of human emotions that transcend both.